Podcasting in LeBron's orbit, Cavs' Jefferson, Frye their own kind of kings
'Road Trippin' with RJ and Channing' is the best podcast in basketball
Channing Frye had an announcement for the media in Boston: He was ready to talk.
It was an off-day at the Eastern Conference finals, and the Cleveland Cavaliers big man knew just about everybody was waiting for LeBron James to take his normal round of questions before practice started. When one reporter took Frye up on his offer, he was mildly surprised.
"Oh, you're serious?" Frye said. As soon as the interview started, Frye interrupted: "Yeah, I wake up like this! Just kidding, no, go ahead, go ahead."
Sitting next to him with a smile on his face was Cavs forward Richard Jefferson, who, along Fox Sports Ohio sideline reporter Allie Clifton, is used to Frye's brand of silliness. The three host the most interesting and perhaps least structured podcast in basketball. "Road Trippin' with RJ & Channing" is a vehicle for the veterans to crack jokes while talking about life with teammates and friends.
The first episode started with them clinking wine glasses. It was recorded in January with one microphone in a hotel room in San Francisco and published on the team's website. Now they have headsets, it runs on James' "Uninterrupted" platform and it is the No. 1 sports show on Apple Podcasts as of Monday afternoon. There is still wine.
In a world where just about everybody has a podcast, the Road Trippin' crew can show you how to make yours the next big thing. Just follow these seven simple steps:
1. Forge a two-decade friendship with someone
Jefferson and Frye have known each other since the former was starring for the Arizona Wildcats and the latter was 14 years old and attending St. Mary's High School in Phoenix. Jefferson hosted Frye on his recruiting visit at Arizona and has been the big brother of the relationship ever since.
"We've known each other for 20 years," Jefferson said, "and whatever arguing that people hear on the podcast, that's what we do all day anyway. We do it on the bus, we do it everywhere. Guys actually get annoyed listening to us argue."
Frye arrived in Cleveland at the 2016 trade deadline, and well before Road Trippin' was even an idea, his rapport with Jefferson helped the team loosen up. When Jefferson approached Clifton about the podcast, one of her concerns was whether she could keep up with the two of them.
"It's an incredible bond and everyone sees it and knows it," Clifton said. "It's something special and very unique and they're such a huge part to the Cavs' success just as people and their personalities and what they bring to this team without a doubt."
2. Get a job that affords you free time
The NBA life is not unglamorous, but in some ways it isn't as exciting as you might think. One reason this podcast exists is to alleviate boredom on road trips.
"We do nothing," Jefferson said. "I remember when we started the podcast obviously the team wasn't playing great, so there was these little rumblings -- oh, guys need to focus, blah blah blah. And I was like, you don't understand. We land at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, our coach says we don't need to see you guys until 10:30 in the morning. That's a lot of time. Even if you watch an hour worth of film, even if you lift for an hour, you have nothing to do. And you're just with yourself, you're sitting in your hotel room."
When away from Cleveland, James likes to get the team together and go to restaurants. "I always joked LeBron's part-Italian," Jefferson said, because it isn't unusual for a dinner to last five hours in a private room, with wine, appetizers, music, an NBA game on the television and … impassioned debates. If there was a lightbulb moment, it occurred at dinner.
"All we would do is sit in there and argue about who's the best small forward of all time, who did this, do you remember this player, top-five this," Jefferson said. "I was like, dude, fans would love this."
3. Use your connections
Jefferson and Frye are fortunate enough to have interesting coworkers. On the first episode, a month before Kyrie Irving's unforgettable "the Earth is flat" appearance, the guard joined Jefferson and Frye and discussed whether or not they have a rivalry with the Golden State Warriors. Irving also said he sat in the nosebleeds watching Jefferson play for the Nets as a nine-year-old growing up in New Jersey.
"This is my fifth season with Fox Sports Ohio; I had never gotten the time in terms of an hour with Kyrie," Clifton said. "And so I think from that standpoint, right away it jumped out to me. As soon as he walked out of the room, Richard, Channing and I all looked at one another very organically and said, 'We just got Kyrie to sit down for an hour!' And those are his teammates."
The third episode, recorded on the team plane because of a flight delay in late January, started with James saying he would quickly bless the podcast with his presence. He ended up staying for more than half an hour, talking about whether or not college athletes should be paid and how he is trying to give Irving his blueprint for superstardom.
"Having guys like LeBron and Kyrie, it just makes it even more interesting because they don't live in reality," Frye said. "Let's just keep it 100: they don't live a normal life. They're really here on an upper-echelon level. I'm probably never going to be able to play with anybody at that level ever again."
4. Define roles
Clifton is the glue that holds the podcast together. She sees it as her job to allow Jefferson and Frye to go on wild tangents, and then have a feel for when to reel them back in. After every episode is recorded, she and Jefferson listen and give each other feedback.
"Allie wants to be a host," Jefferson said. "I think she looks at the Hannah Storms and Michelle Beadles as people that she wants to emulate in the near future. I think that this opportunity allows her to do that. Because where else would you get reps? And she's done an amazing job. She does all the editing. She does so much stuff. She's more than just a host. Channing just shows up. That's Channing's only responsibility."
Frye said that Jefferson "has to drag me to do it every time." He has never heard an episode after it has been edited. He does not listen to podcasts. Jefferson is happy to be the more serious of the two.
"Part of the reason why I started is I want to go to that next side, go over to the media," Jefferson said. "I'm very critical of myself. Gerry Matalon, he was a former talent developer at ESPN, he's been a person that has mentored me and now he does it privately. I want to get better at it. I want to learn how to carry a conversation. I want to learn how to get the ums and the likes out of my vocabulary when I'm talking."
Frye's motivation: "Learning new things about guys, being able to express how I feel about certain subjects and, really, just to be able to argue with Richard because that's what we do half the time."
5. Be inspired
Jefferson looks up to Michael Strahan, Charles Barkley and Bill Walton -- the guest on Episode 8 -- because of the way they have crossed over into the media. Clifton said that she's anxious and curious to see where Jefferson goes when he steps away from the game because he is so driven to succeed in front of the camera and behind the microphone.
"He's constantly asking me what he can do to get better," Clifton said. "So there is a passion there for him. It's very natural. And so I'm not surprised that he is where he is and the podcast is where it is because he is really the main guy behind it all."
Jefferson counts himself as a fan of "WTF with Marc Maron," saying he has listened to the long-running show more than any other podcast. He pointed to the famous episode with Louis CK, where the two comedians try to repair their friendship. Jefferson isn't sure he could ever get another player to be quite that candid -- "There's so much more machismo that goes on in sports, there's so much more testosterone," he said -- but he points out the obvious connection: He wants to talk to people in his field and get them to let their guards down.
"You can only get that interview out of Louis CK, who's one of the greatest comics and comedic minds, you only get that out of him if you're in that environment," Jefferson said. "That's the thing, because you can talk about anything. There's no time restraint of TV, there is no time restraint of radio. It's like, we're going to talk for as long as we have to talk to get this out. And that's why, to me, of all-time, that's probably one of the top-five things I've ever heard in my life."
6. Make guests feel comfortable
Those cliche-filled, rote answers you've seen professional athletes deliver at press conferences? They are just as boring to the athletes themselves as they are to everybody else. Tim Duncan famously hated doing media as a player, but is friends with Jefferson from their time as teammates with the Spurs. The future Hall of Famer listened to the flat-Earth episode and agreed to do the show when the Cavs visited San Antonio.
Duncan, who retired last July and did no interviews aside from a sitdown with an old friend in the Virgin Islands, discussed late-night World of Warcraft battles with Frye and the ill-fated, bronze-medal-winning 2004 Olympic basketball team with Jefferson. He also revealed he had a week-old daughter named Quill, named after Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy.
"Most of the time, guys don't want to be in the news," Frye said. "I think, with our podcast, it's more like they're our friends, they're our teammates and we're asking them questions that aren't usually asked. And I think it's given the guys a chance to express themselves in a comfortable place where they feel safe."
Jefferson wanted to start the podcast while he was still in the league partially because, if he had waited until he had retired, he would be viewed as an outsider. Conversations between insiders tend to be less formal and more compelling.
"We're all about just talking, having a good time, having a glass of wine and just chilling," Frye said.
7. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable
If the goal is to give guests a chance say things they wouldn't in other forums, then the hosts must set an example. Frye might be the only podcast host in history put himself in timeout and try to stay silent, but he is also willing to talk to Jefferson and Clifton about being an emotional eater and the mental anguish that goes along with a shooting slump. Jefferson has talked earnestly about what it felt like when Cleveland won a title last season -- while everybody else was jumping up and down and celebrating on the court, he sat on the bench by himself, taking in the moment.
"Have fun, enjoy it and make sure that you're speaking from the heart," Frye said. "Make sure that you're allowing the fans to see that you're vulnerable during the podcast and that you are opening yourself up and not giving these cookie-cutter answers. And don't be boring, man. Sometimes it's OK to be controversial. People don't have to agree with you all the time on everything. But you have to be able to, like I said, be vulnerable."
Clifton said the podcast reflects the chemistry that the Cavs have developed on and off the court. In Jefferson's view, the key is just being real, and people will relate to that.
"If you are a cook or a gardener, whatever it is that you do that you're successful in, be that person," Jefferson said. "Don't try to be somebody else. And I think for basketball, me and Channing don't claim to be stars or studs. We joke about how we just eat off of LeBron and how we ride his coattails. We joke about that because that's who we are and we're honest with it."
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