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Exclusive Interview: Ryan Hollins on Broadcasting in 2019, Social Media Hate, and “Hot Takes”

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Ryan Hollins has become somewhat of a controversial figure for his hot takes as he gets more airtime on ESPN. In his words? “I’ve always talked like this.”

Ryan Hollins Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Ryan Hollins has become a social media dream for those looking for likes and clicks. If you record some of what he says on ESPN programming and post it to social media with some crying laughing emoji’s or a hypothetical question, you are bound to see some engagement and receive a solid stream of comments clowning said clip. It’s become routine in today’s sports media landscape: Figure A. says something controversial on national television, it gets put online, and the internet does the rest.

Last week, I wrote about what Hollins does and how, in today’s sports media landscape, having someone like him on the air is great for the modern 24/7 media of today, especially in the relatively dead period of August (for the NBA in particular). I wanted to talk to Ryan about the social media derision that he receives on a daily basis, creating content, entertainment value in broadcasting and for his perspective on his broadcasting career right now. As he puts it: “I don’t hold my tongue. When I go on TV, I literally leave a piece of myself with the audience.” Check out this exclusive interview with Ryan below, and enjoy!

First off, thanks for doing this interview. I feel as though your perspective on your broadcasting career right now hasn’t really been heard yet, so I’m glad we can touch on that! Being that this is a Clipper blog, I wanted to ask about your time with the franchise. Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the Lob City days?

Hey! No problem brother. As far as the Lob City days, all our guys keep in contact because the one thing we’ve had was a really successful group (post-retirement). All those guys are doing pretty big things from Grant Hill having his own show on NBA TV, Chauncey Billups doing NBA on ESPN, Willie Green sitting on the bench for the Warriors as well. So all those guys, we really keep in touch. There really hasn’t been a fall off. I wouldn’t say a day-to-day thing but we always bump into each other so it’s really cool to see.

How do you feel your career after basketball has gone thus far? And given that you are only three years out of the NBA, what do you think has contributed to your rather rapid ascension up the broadcasting ladder?

I can’t complain about my life past basketball, or I would just say past the NBA. I had a really cool experience playing in Spain and Italy. After that, diving into broadcasting which is really premature. I say premature because I’m only 34 years old and I stopped playing around 33. I’ve only been doing broadcasting for a year and a half. I came to a point where, clearly I don’t have a “name” that they can just throw on during the summer on TV. So I had to really make the choice to go two feet in. Meaning, going into a scary place of fully committing to quit basketball. When I did that -- the phone wasn’t ringing, all the contacts I made weren’t there and it was tough. I had to grind and scrap and claw my way to get anything broadcasting wise.

That work ethic has helped when it comes to me moving up the ladder of broadcasting. Man, I work my butt off. I always say this, I work like I’m the intern. When I started broadcasting, like I said, I didn’t have an all-star “name,” I didn’t have NBA championships, I didn’t have any of that behind me. I knew that I had to be really good. So, I work and compare myself to people who are broadcasters, not necessarily former players who are broadcasters. Even though I am a former player and that was something I was going to lean on, I always knew that I had to be good beyond that, and that if I was going to have the success I wanted, it would have to be because of my broadcasting skills, not my name. I also believe in myself, you know, why not me? I just put in the work and I grind and grind. Man, if you knew how much I had to do, you wouldn’t even understand or the stuff I’ve had to go through. I believe in myself and I don’t take no for an answer, even though I’ve been told no (laughs) thousands of times broadcasting wise.

You catch a lot of flack online and on social media for some of the things you say with people using labels like “hot take artist” or “contrarian” when it comes to your TV appearances. Do you think these descriptions are fair? And what do you make of the social media and online chatter surrounding your television appearances?

You know, people say I’m this “hot take guy” or I just throw things out there. Look, I don’t say anything that I don’t believe or that I can’t back up with my experience as a player or stats or whatever it may be. For me, what’s tough, there’s a give and take -- iIve always talked like this. Now, certain things will catch fire and there are people that don’t watch the shows, First Take in particular, that will see clickbait or a statement like “Hollins said this” or “(Max) Kellerman said this,” or “Stephen A. (Smith) says this” and that’s the way the show’s promoted. Now, you take a deep dive in to watch the full show, you’ll get the context. Unfortunately, some of those things haven’t been fairly assessed or broken down.

For example, when we discussed Chris Paul, talking about “is he still elite” or hey, should the Lakers take CP3? No, that’s not a good scenario. You’ve committed to Rajon Rondo and you’ve done a lot of uprooting of your roster. But no, the question posed was “Who was better right now? Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo?” I’m going to answer truthfully and i’m going to take Rondo. So now that’s the clickbait that goes out to millions of phones that get people in an uproar. That’s not any disrespect to CP’s Hall-of-Fame career but it’s more a note of health, if that makes sense. When we’re debating, I want to back you into a corner. It’s really supposed to be a war of sorts. I’m trying to prove my point that X, Y and Z should happen and you should be saying A, B and C should happen. That’s what we get within 10 hours of television during the week, two hours at a pop. You have to kind of roll with it and some viewers are going to dive into it and some people aren’t. Some are going to watch the show and do their homework and some aren’t.

Would I say (the “hot take”/“contrarian” labels) are fair? I’d say life isn’t fair. But what I will address that is disappointing, again is that people don’t do their homework. Or they pop off on headlines. It’s not even just the viewers or people online, I think you would expect certain things from your peers that isn’t there sometimes. Nonetheless, it is what it is and I’m blessed to be doing what i’m doing right now!

In your Instagram bio you state, “I create content.” In 2019, constant content is key. However, creating extensive content could mean just saying things to get clicks or views. When you give an unpopular, or objectively “hot” take, are you purposefully trying to stir the pot to amplify reaction/debate and engagement?

When I say I “create content” it’s definitely not to get a click or a view. I’m not going to just say crap to make you talk. That is NOT, by far not, what is meant. When I say I create content, it’s because, what I’ve had to do to get where I am, I have to understand what the producer is thinking. I have to understand what the camera man is thinking. I have to understand how the social media team is going to take our content and divide it up. I also run my own social media. Piecing together clips, begging for clips, tracking stuff, downloading stuff, putting it up. I’m a one man band, so the more I learn about content and how things work and how social media is driven, I have become better at my craft. It’s more than just getting on and saying something, it’s how you say it, it’s where you say it, it’s how you phrase it, it’s how you back it up. You also have to understand how it travels. You obviously want it to travel in a positive light but ultimately you have to be honest with yourself. I could say 100 things on air that won’t catch but one thing you say flies off and people go wild. I can’t control that.

For me, creating content is now about expanding myself past an athlete. I’ve been so driven to just be a basketball player that you sacrifice yourself. The money, obviously, is worth it, you are making millions of dollars, but you sacrifice a piece of yourself as you should. When I say I create content, I get to be myself. I get to be more than a basketball player. What’s crazy, I understand that basketball got me to where I am but I decide to pull away from that. I want to be the guy that does it all. I want to be the host, I want to be the analyst, I want to be the main guy, I want to be able to do everything! When someone tells you you can’t do something, it drives me harder. I have been told “no, never, can’t, won’t” literally my entire life (laughs). That’s the story of the NBA. I was the guy who was never supposed to be there. I was never an All-American, never some big time prospect. I just got down and grinded and did the dirty work.

In my piece this week on Clips Nation, I argued in your favor that what you bring to the sports media table is entertaining, funny and good for creating more in the news cycle for sports fans to react to. Where was this “entertainment factor” that you bring cultivated? Did it come from any specific inspiration or idea?

For me, ultimately, it also is entertainment. That’s a big part of it. You want to see a good, genuine, fun conversation with guys. What sets me apart, which is sometimes tough, is that I don’t hold my tongue. Well, I hold it to a degree, some things are inappropriate to say, but I truly speak from my heart. I get that from my father. When I go on TV, I literally leave a piece of myself with the audience. I come off set sometimes after a ten hour day, running around ESPN and doing phone calls and doing this show and that show and I’m physically drained. I’ve given it my all. I can attribute that to my father and my basketball career, that’s how I played. I don’t leave any regret on the table and you have ME passionately. I’m also my worst critic. If I’m not doing a good job or not going after it, there’s a problem.

As far as entertainment value, you gotta have fun dude. You have to have a smile, you have to enjoy it! I mean, we are talking about basketball! For me, the entertainment value is everything. I’m excited. When I dive into a topic. I have to LOVE what I’m talking about. Not lukewarm. I have to love it, I have to be two feet in and that’s how I feel when I speak. That’s why it’s organic. It’s funny when people ask “Do you do something for a click or a view?” If I did that, I would get caught up. I would say something that I don’t believe in and I’d be caught up in it. That’s how you ultimately get yourself in trouble. If you say something, you gotta stick to it and have to believe in it.

As far as criticism, I’m new to this (broadcasting) game. Me being new, people aren’t used to my voice. So there’s that “whoa whoa whoa, i’m used to hearing this other person every day, who are you and why are you so confident?” It’s all love man. I will say, the funny thing is, that social media is far from a representation of the real world. When I walk around...people want to take photos, they want hugs, handshakes, people stop their cars, they’ll stop traffic. It’s really humbling the support that’s there. Instagram has turned into the new Twitter with these egg accounts or three follower accounts on private that just talk crazy. Those aren’t real people. Those are people that want attention. So you can’t buy into that world. I just try to enjoy what I do and get better everyday.

Are there any NBA debates/takes that you have had on television that you want to elaborate on more or take back fully even?

No, there’s nothing I would like to take back. As far as the CP/Rondo example, I think people really take for granted that this is a guy with a ring and was in the playoff hunt year after year. When I played with him, keep in mind I played with both of them, so I have first-hand experience, I was surprised at how skilled and talented he was and keep in mind, before Rondo got hurt with the finger injury (this past season) and missed a month as well as LeBron being out at the same time, they destroyed the Warriors on Christmas Night and were in the driver’s seat for a playoff run. I think that Rondo could have continued to lead the Lakers to a playoff spot if he was healthy while LeBron was injured! Not that Chris Paul isn’t a fine player but health. We got knee and leg injuries vs. finger and hand injuries. Rajon Rondo can still play at a high clip.

As far as the controversial Chris Bosh take, for one, I want the record to get set straight. Chris Bosh is of the top three players I’ve played against in my life. I’ve had a chance to guard some great players. He’s one of the guys I couldn’t guard. Boogie Cousins, Marc Gasol, and Chris Bosh have worn me out. He’s incredibly skilled, can shoot the ball, go right, go left, he knows how to draw fouls etc. I could not guard Chris Bosh to save my life, so let’s get that on record. As far as being a big three (with the Miami Heat), I didn’t consider Chris in the “big three.” Was he not a great player? No, that would be silly to say that. But when I see those championship runs and what made the Heat special, it was LeBron and Wade. You need a full team. When we look at the Raptors championship run, we talk about Kawhi Leonard. Are we dissing Marc Gasol? Are we dissing those other guys? No, we talk about Kawhi, we’re not dissing Kyle Lowry and VanVleet and Pascal. It was Kawhi’s team. He made them special. Wade and Bron made that team special. What’s funny to me, more disappointing actually, is that this had been an age old argument. This had been talked about for years. I make this statement within a segment that wasn’t even about the segment and everyone is up in a frenzy. But hey, that’s part of being in media.

I would say, even to that Cavs team, you look at LeBron and Kyrie of course but are we gonna leave Kevin Love off the table? Understandably so. You know, Kevin had some great moments during the run but you always first mention Bron and Kyrie and then you throw in Love. So no disrespect, nothing but love to Chris Bosh but I wanted that in context, but I do not take that back. It’s annoying because that is not a new stance by any means and keep in mind, that was a team that I personally competed against in the playoffs. They sent us home on their way to a championship. Nothing but respect for those guys.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned in broadcasting thus far?

Remain patient. Be your own worst critic. Be sure to stare at yourself in the mirror and you see what you can get better on. I think that always being in tune with my audience is something I have to learn as well. I want to be special every time I get on air. There’s an art to that that few have mastered. This engagement and entertainment value. That’s something I strive to learn in such a short amount of time. My feelings are, “why not me?” There’s this guy and that guy but why not me? We live in an age where people get opportunities. We have women coaches in the NBA, we have female analysts in the NFL. Those stigmas are gone. Guys like Jalen Rose are running things at ESPN, a big brother of mine, a guy I lean on heavily. He wasn’t the biggest player ever but you see, he’s arguably one of the top figures in the NBA. I love learning from those guys who have paved the way for any opportunities I’ve had thus far.

What are your expectations for the L.A. Clippers this season?

Best team in basketball. I have championship expectations! Guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, those are two players that deliver. And Kawhi is probably the greatest player in history that we’ve seen of not caring about the media or what somebody says. He refuses to be caught up in nonsense. You have to poke and prod to get anything from him. I believe that his unmatched work ethic, as well as the blue-collar identity from the rest of the team, will push the Clippers and Doc Rivers to a championship. I believe that Paul George, the table is set for him to have a big year and big numbers. You don’t have to run a play for those guys for them to be impactful. Normally, guys will complain. It’s an easy plug-and-play fit for the Clippers. With Doc, I played for him, what’s crazy about him is his ability to adapt recently. Doc doesn’t run the same stuff he did in Boston with myself, KG, Rondo, Pierce, or the Lob City era with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. He has a completely new offense that works and he has adapted like no other, something he received flack for not doing sometimes earlier in his L.A. tenure. One of the best basketball minds I’ve ever had the privilege to play for and been around, just seeing how he works. So for me, Doc Rivers by far, puts the Clippers as the number one team in the NBA and the favorites for the championship.