Slate’s “Hang Up and Listen” is one of and possibly the best sports podcasts on a good day. But (to borrow a sports cliché) the team took their game to the next level with last week’s episode titled “The Kevin Durant Just Broke the NBA Edition” — due in no small part to New Orleans’ own Josh Levin.
Levin, a 1998 graduate of Ben Franklin High School, more recently has spent several years as the executive editor for Slate, which includes hosting “Hang Up and Listen” — a weekly roundtable discussion of sports and culture that frequently includes contributors Stefan Fatsis and Mike Pesca. (Pesca, a frequent NPR contributor, also has his own Slate podcast, “The Gist.”)
As the “Hang Up and Listen” host, Levin often serves as the steady anchor and moderator to the more colorful Fatsis and Pesca, but it’s in the “Afterballs” — a lagniappe section at the episode’s end filled with commentary — that his dry wit takes flight. In his essay, Levin satirized Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant’s decision to jump to the 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors as announced on the sports-athlete website The Players’ Tribune. (The site often is used by athletes to post major career announces like these.)
Levin’s piece is a compendium of essays by pro athletes, including Durant, and taps into the sometimes self-important tone that borders on the pretentious. (Kobe Bryant comes to mind.) Hence passages such as this:
The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a podcaster — as that has always steered me in the right direction. I’m at a point in my life where my ad reads need to be crisper, and my bonus segments need to be smarter. But it’s of equal importance for me to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man.”
Levin stresses that his “decision” is pure fiction — spoiler alert: he’s not switching places with Slate movie critic Dana Stevens — but with his words you have appreciate his “growth” as a podcaster.
“It’s the place where athletes go to make a big announcement, whether it’s Kevin Durant changing teams teams or someone leaving the sport so I kind of blended both,” Levin said by phone. “I don’t want to mock some for their sincerity, but there are some clichés of the form that have developed. It’s is such a new thing and it so quickly become ubiquitous, so there was an opportunity to have some fun with it and point out some of the ways that all of these announce sort of sound the same.” (I will have more from Levin later on. Stay tuned.)
You can read the essay in its text version (Levin cautions he might have reworked the wording on the air), or you can listen to the podcast embedded below; Levin’s commentary begins one hour and nine minutes into the podcast (or 1:09).
New Orleans readers might be more familiar with Levin’s “dispatches” from the Crescent City in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — just a couple years after he’d started working at Slate. (You can check out those stories here.)
“This has been by far the most challenging few weeks in my professional life. I understood cognitively that I was facing a crossroads in my evolution as a podcaster and as a man, and that it came with exceptionally difficult choices. What I didn’t truly understand, however, was the range of emotions I would feel during this process. A wise man once said you should trust the process, or maybe he didn’t say it and other people attributed it to him, but regardless he resigned and then the Sixers got Ben Simmons, so I wasn’t sure whether that meant I should trust the process or not. As I said, it’s been a challenging few weeks.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a podcaster — as that has always steered me in the right direction. I’m at a point in my life where my ad reads need to be crisper, and my bonus segments need to be smarter. But it’s of equal importance for me to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man.
“I’m from New Orleans originally, but Washington, D.C., truly raised me. I’ve been in this city for almost 14 years, at Slate for nearly 13, and recording episodes of this podcast since 2009. When I started at Slate in 2003, we were still four months away from the Guardian using the term podcasting in an article. What I’m trying to say is that, along with Mike Pesca and Stefan Fatsis but mostly by myself, afterball after afterball, one SquareSpace ad at a time, I invented podcasting and got Zelmo Beaty into the Hall of Fame. But at the same time, I was learning about family as well as what it means to be a man.
“Podcasting brought me opportunities that I never thought possible: building a new medium, being a part of history. It has helped me build my community, build families and build young women.
“Sure, it wasn’t all fun and games. I popped my share of p’s, read the wrong promo code during a MeUndies spot, and didn’t prepare well enough for that interview with the guy whose name I never learned. But I honestly believe that all of those experiences helped make me who I am, and who I will become.
I podcasted through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.
“There are no words to express what the Slate and Panoply organizations mean to me, and what they will represent in my life and in my heart forever. The memories and friendships and afterballs are something that go far beyond all the awards we haven’t won. Those invaluable relationships, with people like Mike and Stefan and Panoply chief content officer Andy Bowers and trivia champion emeritus Carman Tse, are what made this deliberation so challenging.
“With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to stay at Slate, but I’m going to switch spots with Dana Stevens. Trust me, you’ll come to love her low center of gravity. That’s my final decision, although if Stefan cuts short his Caribbean vacation and plays spades with me and Paul Pierce and JJ Redick and Blake Griffin, then maybe I’ll change my mind and sign a four-year, $88 million max deal.
“Signed Josh Levin, executive editor. Copyright 2016, The Podcasters’ Tribune.”
(Listen to this week’s episode, “The Fleek Five Edition”)