The last couple of years have seen a significant increase in athlete-led podcasts, particularly in basketball. JJ Reddick’s "The Old Man and the Three," Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson’s "All the Smoke," and Duncan Robinson’s "The Long Shot," are three examples as players work to manage the narratives of not only their careers but in some cases, their sport.
PUSH Podcast: Wheelchair Basketball in the United States
Enter Derek Hoot and Martinez Johnson, two wheelchair basketball athletes and former teammates at the University of Illinois. Their offering, "PUSH Podcast: Wheelchair Basketball in the United States," seeks to grow the game via interviews with some of its past, present, and future stars. Hoot says that starting the podcast in February largely stemmed from his experiences playing collegiately and professionally, along with reading and listening to sports journalist Jeff Pearlman’s work.
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“I just thought about all the really talented, Paralympic-level athletes that I've met, and their accomplishments, and how sports media just doesn't have the infrastructure to cover it. There's just not a huge contingent of sports journalists who are dedicated solely to adaptive sports. And so I started going through my Rolodex and thinking about who I can contact.”
Owing to the duo’s connections, and just how tight-knit the wheelchair basketball community is, the podcast has already included episodes with Paralympians like Matt Scott and Rose Hollermann, as well as highly regarded coaches like the University of Texas-Arlington’s Doug Garner and Illinois’ Matt Buchi.
Initially a one-person show, Johnson entered the fold shortly after the first episode was released. He says his interest in becoming a co-host was immediate.
“I just remember listening to the first episode he [Hoot] put out with UTA’s Doug Garner, and I just called him, like, immediately after I finished listening to it. I didn't even pull into my apartment complex at the time and said, ‘Hey, dude, this is amazing. You're doing a great job. This is great.’ Gave him some tips, and then we just kept talking. And next thing you know, I just started being on the podcast with him and I've been enjoying it as well.”
Picking up steam
The podcast has been entered into a competition, The Next Great Podcast 2021, which is judged by Dan Patrick and hosted by Tongal and iHeartRadio. The competition is vote-based and ends on December 15. The prize? A partnership with iHeartRadio with PUSH up against a host of (largely) true crime podcasts from across the US. Should they win, it’s an opportunity that Hoot believes could have a massive impact on the growth of wheelchair basketball as a whole.
“That would just be, not even in my opinion, just objectively a huge leap forward. In media representation for wheelchair basketball.”
Johnson says that part of the value of the podcast to the audience is the same thing that draws people to athlete-led projects in higher-profile sports: the behind-the-scenes information you can’t get anywhere else.
“The exposure that we're being able to give the sport has been really great, but also getting an opportunity to talk about it in-depth, because these kinds of conversations we're having on the podcast, people in the wheelchair basketball community are having all the time, but it's in secrecy, right? [...] if me and Derek talk about who we think might be the best player in the world or who we think might be the best coach. There hasn't been a medium for us to Google, who's the best wheelchair basketball player in the world.”
The podcast pilot submitted to the contest – an interview with the aforementioned Matt Scott – can be found on the competition’s website. Voting ends on December 15.