‘Road Trippin’, Led by Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, Paves the Way for NBA Player Podcasts

CLEVELAND -- If you’re an NBA player, odds are you’ve got some stories to tell—from your journey to the league and life as a professional basketball player, to team hijinks, non-sports aspirations or even conspiracy theories.

Take Stephen Curry, for example. On the second episode of Winging It, a new podcast hosted by Atlanta Hawks teammates Vince Carter and Kent Bazemore with Annie Finberg, the Golden State Warriors’ two-time MVP explained why he believes that NASA never went to the moon.

Steph’s claim inspired a social media firestorm, but it’s not the first of its kind. The lineage of NBA stars espousing fringe opinions (jokingly or otherwise) on podcasts began with another championship-winning point guard (Kyrie Irving) on another show hosted by two teammates and a media personality: Uninterrupted’s Road Trippin’ with Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton.

Road Trippin’ isn’t just the first podcast to be hosted by multiple NBA players. It’s also the longest-running player-hosted podcast since it started in January 2017—and it will debut on TV in the new year (with final plans still in the works). With its free-flowing format and relaxed, fun-filled style, Road Trippin’ helped to change the game for active pro athletes seeking self-expression in the digital age.

“The very first thing we did was kinda create our motto,” Allie tells CloseUp360. “And that’s all about ‘No one tells our stories better than us.’ And I think that’s the rich beauty in what Road Trippin’ has established.”

For the first time in 17 years, Richard isn’t lacing up his sneakers or taking ice baths in December. Instead, after retiring from the league in October, he’s watching NBA basketball from the sidelines and taking cues through a headset as the game and studio analyst for the Brooklyn Nets on the YES Network.

“I think a lot of people always put it in my head, like, ‘Yo, you’d be really good at this. You’d be really good at broadcasting. You should try that out,’” he says.

But before Richard got in front of television cameras in Brooklyn, he built up reps—and his voice—behind the mic on Road Trippin’. At its inception, Richard joined Channing, then his teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Allie, then the Cavs’ sideline reporter, and whichever guest they could grab each week for an open, honest discussion about whatever’s on their minds.

Richard had long been interested in broadcasting. While he was playing, he attended the National Basketball Players Association’s Sportscaster U. on-air boot camp at Syracuse University. Of all the guests who spoke when he went, longtime talent executive Gerry Matalon, who worked at ESPN for 27 years, was the one who stuck with him the most.

“While you’re a player, you’ve got to get as many reps as you can,” Gerry would tell Richard. “Because everyone wants you when you’re a player.”

Richard took those words to heart, especially when he reached the home stretch of his NBA career. During his stay in Cleveland, he had his own segment with Cavaliers’ TV play-by-play man Fred McLeod during FOX Sports Ohio’s postgame coverage.

The more reps Richard got, the more he enjoyed it—and the more he wanted to do. So he came up with the idea to start a podcast. To bring it to life, he had to find another host and a guest.

At the time, Allie was in her fourth season as the sideline reporter for FOX Sports Ohio. Channing, whom Richard knew well from their shared roots in Phoenix, was in his second year with the Cavs. As Richard saw it, they would be the perfect choices to join him for a test run of his podcast. All he had to do was talk them into it—which, for Richard, comes naturally.

For Allie, the decision was difficult. Without prior experience as a host, she wondered whether she would be able to guide Richard and Channing’s dynamic personalities.

“I kinda said no at first,” Allie says. “I wasn’t sure about kinda stepping out in that kind of way with things that I would say or he would say, with everything being taking one way or another in today’s world.”

Channing, on the other hand, didn’t need much persuading.

“I was, like, ‘Man I don’t want to do this stupid podcast,’” Channing says. “And then Richard goes, ‘Well, I’ll get you a bottle of wine.’ I was, like, ‘Dude, I’ll be there.’”

Though their lives can get crazy during the season, NBA players generally have a ton of free time when they’re on the road. Practice usually comes before the flight, and there can be a 12-hour period in between landing and team activities.

So what better way to kill time on a road trip than to shoot the shit and have a few drinks?

The trio tried it out during a Cavs’ road trip to Salt Lake City a little over a week after New Year’s in January 2017. They liked the result so much that they decided to make it a three-host podcast permanently. After adding sound engineer Rafael Hernandez Brito to the mix, Road Trippin’ was born.

The crew recorded its first official episode inside a training room in San Francisco, while the Cavs were in town to play the Golden State Warriors. Richard, Channing and Allie were sitting on couches with their own glasses of wine and a bag of M&Ms, accompanied by a single microphone placed inside an empty wine glass.

Prior to recording, Kyrie—an integral part of Cleveland’s “Big Three” at the time—stopped in to get treatment from the team’s trainer, Steve Spiro. The All-Star point guard jumped onto the podcast for what was supposed to be a brief appearance, but ended up staying for the entire 65 minutes of the show. In episodes to follow, the trio brought on LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, along with Kyrie twice more in the span of a month.

Each of Road Trippin's first seven episodes featured guests from the Cavs. The open and fun-loving nature of the podcast attracted different members of the wine and gold, and learning about one another in a different light helped build team chemistry.

Richard recalls the different cliques that the Cavs had with their championship team. There were the younger guys—Kyrie, Iman Shumpert and Jordan McRae—who were 23 years old and single. Then, between Richard, Channing, LeBron, Kevin and J.R. Smith, there were five veterans in their late 20s and early 30s with relationships and families.

“Something like [a podcast] brings everyone together and just now you have an intermingling of a group,” Richard says.

That setting provided a forum for honest dialogue for everyone on the Cavs. And since Richard and Channing were involved, their teammates could feel confident that they would be represented in a positive light on the podcast.

“We have created such a safe space, and a space where guys can feel like they can be themselves. It's very unfiltered,” Allie says. “They trust that if they do say something, we will edit it out. Maybe we record it and at the end of the hour, they think back on it and it's not something they want out there, and so we take it out. It's stuff like that, little things like that, that can build trust.”

Despite what the hosts do for a living, the point isn’t to talk basketball or even sports, really. It’s about getting to know the person behind the player.

“We know you can score. We know you can dunk or block or ski or bike or hike or play baseball,” Channing says. “But what else is [there] about you that people don’t know or that a regular interview guy wouldn’t ask?”

Road Trippin’ has put out 88 episodes to date, with each show lasting anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour and a half. There isn’t a specific format, beyond getting a group of people talking and sharing stories about life.

“We just want people to see how awesome our friends are,” Channing says. “We don’t really interview people how your traditional people interview because our job isn’t to interview you or to get a story or to do anything. Our job on Road Trippin’ is to just talk to you, and I think to almost humanize these players and athletes or whoever we interview that are put on pedestals for athletic achievements. I think most of them should be put on pedestals for what they do outside of the court.”

Allie sees it as “refreshing” for these players to talk about things other than sports because they’re constantly being asked about those things. On the podcast, they can express themselves and discuss topics they care about at length.

Or, if the crew just feels like venting or recapping its daily routines, Road Trippin’ can be an outlet to do so.

“For us, we’re able to show it’s like this is a normal dude that has to yell at his kid, whose wife gets annoyed with them, has to change diapers, had a bad day, had a good day,” Richard says. “Instead of just saying something so well-manicured, it’s just allowed people to be, like, ‘Yo, anybody can be great. It’s just a matter of your focus.’”

To Richard, the immediacy of social media has put traditional outlets in a position where reporting has to be more accurate. An athlete with a huge following has the ability to confirm or deny the rumors that surface without the help of a reporter.

That was true for the Road Trippin’ crew within its first few months of existence. While rumors of a rift between LeBron and Kyrie swirled in the outside world, Richard and Channing saw a distinctly different dynamic in their makeshift studio.

“It is about making sure that people hear the truth from the player’s mouth,” Channing says. “So when all that stuff came out about, ‘Oh, their chemistry’ and this and that, we were just laughing because, literally, we had just done a podcast like for almost two hours with [LeBron and Kyrie].”

Kyrie provided arguably the defining moment of Road Trippin’s history to date. On Episode 7, he claimed that the Earth is flat. The 26-year-old has since apologized for those words, though that episode is still Channing’s personal favorite.

“I love conspiracy theories as much as anyone, and people cut and paste that whole episode, right?” Channing says. “And if you actually listen to Kyrie and like his thoughts and how he thinks of things… Now, he’s trolling everyone about it, but realistically he was just saying, ‘I don’t believe everything that everyone tells me.’”

Not all of the podcast’s episodes have been so polarizing. Nor has all of Road Trippin’s best material been aired.

One day after practice, the co-hosts got together without a guest to feature. It just so happened that Channing’s brother, Logan, was around, so they brought him on instead.

Logan had plenty of stories detailing his college days at the University of Michigan—including one about “vegetables in a refrigerator”—and sounded almost identical to Channing while telling them.

“The whole room’s stomach hurt because we were laughing so hard,” Channing says. “Like, people were falling out the chair laughing so hard. And we tried everything to send it to professional people to fix the sound. It was like too much buzzing behind, so you couldn’t really hear. And it would like make you have convulsions, so we couldn’t get that out.”

“It was hilarious,” Allie says, “and we were so bummed for a long time.”

There are still so many great shows that made it online, though.

Road Trippin’ has invited Major League Baseball MVP Mike Trout, Olympians such as Lindsey Vonn and April Ross, and television stars like Lamorne Morris and Gabrielle Union-Wade to get behind the mic. Road Trippin’ has even taken its act to TownHall, a bar in Cleveland, in front of a live audience with signs and fanfare.

But the ride for Road Trippin’ hasn’t always been smooth. In October 2017, the Cavs traded Richard to the Atlanta Hawks. After being waived, he ended up signing with the Denver Nuggets. The following February, Channing was moved to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline. Those deals left Allie as the lone Road Trippin’ host in Cleveland.

With the crew dispersed across the country, Road Trippin’ with R.J. and Channing rebranded itself as Road Trippin’: Richard vs. Channing.

Richard recorded a few podcasts with his Nuggets teammates. Allie did the same with the Cavs, old and new faces included. As for Channing, he got injured and had to spend his time rehabbing. Coupled with his unfamiliar environment, he didn’t feel comfortable hosting from Los Angeles.

Still, their efforts—along with J.J. Redick’s step as the first active NBA player to host a podcast in 2016—helped set the stage for other hoopers to hone their voices. Draymond Green, Danny Green, C.J. McCollum, Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson have all gone on to anchor their own shows. Kent Bazemore and Mike Muscala hosted the Road Trippin’ ATL spinoff in Atlanta until Kent joined with Vinsanity for Winging It on The Ringer.

Keeping the podcast going hasn't gotten any easier, now that the hosts' locations have flipped again. Channing returned to Northeast Ohio with the Cavs. And Allie migrated to LA to work as the studio host for Spectrum SportsNet, which broadcasts Lakers games.

“I give a lot of credit to Road Trippin’ as to why I’m here in LA now,” Allie says. “I’m exploring a new role, a hosting role in studio—something that I have never done before on a linear stage. And I left a position and I left home, essentially, at the end of the day to explore and kind of really better understand and kinda hone my craft with hosting.”

Richard, meanwhile, reconnected with an old friend en route to a return to the Nets, with whom he began his NBA career in 2001 and helped lead to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and ‘03.

Frank DeGrace, a producer at the YES Network, has been a part of the company since Richard’s rookie season with the then-New Jersey Nets. As Richard crept towards the end of his playing career, Frank got in his ear.

“Are you retiring? Are you retiring? Are you retiring?” Richard recounts Frank telling him. “’Come to us. Just come work with us for one year.”

Knowing the national broadcasting talent the YES Network has developed over the years—from Marv Albert and Mark Jackson to Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok—Richard was happy to come aboard once he decided to retire from the NBA.

Luckily for Road Trippin’, the audio equipment and technology will allow for the podcast to live on, despite the thousands of miles that separate the trio. Channing will hold things down in Cleveland with Cavs’ radio play-by-play man John Michael.

There will also be new additions to the team, as detailed in Episode 87, released on December 5. The show has branched out to Portland, where Trail Blazers guard Evan Turner and sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam featured Wade Baldwin IV for the podcast’s first episode since the expansion.

At the top of that episode in Portland, Allie teased that she and Richard would soon be taking Road Trippin’ from audio-only to television.

For Richard, creating the podcast was a way to gain experience in a media environment.

“It helped me with timing,” Richard says. “It helped me with learning how to describe things. It helps you with kinda just articulation of events or when we would talk to guys. You just learn how to kinda vividly describe things because you’re doing it for radio. So, like, even though people might’ve seen it, you are creating the environment for them.”

It also provided Allie an opportunity to step up as a lead host.

Podcasts Hosted by Active Players

Road Trippin'

Winging It (Vince Carter and Kent Bazemore)

The J.J. Redick Podcast

Inside The Green Room (Danny Green)

Pull Up (C.J. McCollum)

“I don’t know where my career path would’ve gone had I not had a little taste of what hosting was like, and I truly thank Richard and Channing,” Allie says. “I may not tell them every day, but I thank ‘em every single day because they just kinda opened my eyes and my mind to doing something different, and I’m excited to kinda see that through.”

Channing, meanwhile, is in it for all the right reasons.

“It’s fun and I get free stuff,” he jokes.

No matter what their reason for embarking on this journey, none of these three would’ve predicted the success of Road Trippin’, which logged its first No. 1 ranking on iTunesCharts.net's US Sports & Recreation Podcasts Top 40 Chart with Episode 28—with Kevin Love as the featured guest—not even five months after the show’s founding.

“People just navigated towards us,” Richard says. “I was humbled by it that people enjoyed it.”

“It was kinda one of those things where we didn’t really know what to expect or where it was gonna go,” Allie adds, “but obviously it’s kind of taken on a life of its own.”

 

Spencer Davies is a veteran NBA writer based in Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter.