Skip Bayless' recent run-in with Damian Lillard speaks to the bigger picture of the state of sports talk TV in North America.
Social media engagement and television ratings are one and the same. They are both strong indicators of what is popular and who exactly is driving the conversation in any given realm of life. When it comes to sports opinions, this is especially true. There are millions of sports fans out there and they are all equally as capable of giving their opinions and hot takes on a given issue. Due to the sheer abundance of wannabe sports pundits, it takes someone with outlandish opinions and a brash delivery to truly get people's attention, whether good or bad. It also takes someone who can remain consistent in order to appear like they have some semblance of integrity while still stirring the pot in a way that could lead to a nuclear fallout from those they're criticizing.
If you were to take all of the aforementioned qualities and put them into a single person, you would be left with Skip Bayless who currently sits across from Shannon Sharpe on FS1's Undisputed. From his humble beginnings as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune to his time sitting across from Stephen A. Smith on First Take, Bayless was able to accumulate plenty of enemies thanks to his brash takes and constant criticism of certain players. Even today, Bayless is still pissing people off, including Damian Lillard, who very publicly called him out on Twitter by putting the commentator's authenticity into question.
For context, it all started after Lillard dropped 51 points in a game that would eventually help propel the Portland Trail Blazers to the eighth seed in the West. Following the game, Skip stated on Twitter that he still wasn't buying into "Dame Time" and that he would discuss why on Undisputed. Lillard saw the tweet and called him out, stating that they actually had a personal phone call where Skip kept backpedaling from his criticism the entire time. Essentially, Lillard was saying that Skip's real-life persona is much different from the one he portrays on TV. While many could have assumed this, Lillard's tweet acts as a confirmation to the suspicions of millions of sports fans. In simpler terms, Skip Bayless is the living and breathing embodiment of sports talk television's obsession with ratings and virality.
Sports fans love being mad at someone, and it's easy when it's an individual who they vehemently disagree with. Skip is typically that person. In fact, it is so easy to disagree with him, that you almost have to follow him on Twitter and watch him on Undisputed because the sheer amount of bad takes are entertaining in and of themselves. This is what makes Skip so perfect. Regardless of how wrong he is on a given subject, people want to be able to make him eat crow. This obsession with proving Bayless wrong has helped make him into of the most relevant sports talk television hosts of all-time, and he doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
To think Skip's bad takes are coming from a place of ignorance, however, would be naive. Skip knows exactly what he's doing and there are plenty of instances that prove this. Perhaps the best example of this is his hatred for LeBron James. When Lillard tweeted about Bayless, he noted that he pressed Bayless about why he hates LeBron so much, although we never got a real answer. Either way, Skip has been disparaging LeBron since 2003, when James entered the league as a teenager. Back in the early days of First Take, Skip would lament about James' lack of a clutch gene and how he would never surpass the likes of Michael Jordan. Even after numerous personal accolades and NBA titles, Skip still has the same tired takes about LeBron. While one might chalk this up to being dense, you can easily make the case that Skip is still doing this because it still gets people riled up. Throughout the years, Skip has had so many ridiculous tweets about James, that it's clear he's trolling for the engagement, and fans fall into the trap every single time. One could just look at this Tweet where Bayless claims Johnny Manziel will be a bigger player in Cleveland than LeBron, to see what we mean.
Throughout his career, Bayless has been called out numerous times, yet he never seems all that phased by it which is another indicator that he loves playing the villain. The best examples of these in-person challenges are when Jalen Rose called him "Water Pistol Pete" and when Mark Cuban told him to stop being so hard on players, which led to a pretty heated exchange. While Bayless came away from these discussions looking weak, they only helped increase his profile, adding to the notion that at the end of the day, sports talk television is all about the personalities, and the insanity of it all.
These days, Skip has fully embraced his villain persona which has ultimately led to an increase in his wackiness. On social media, Bayless is able to get fans in a tizzy with his "Drip Bayless" character who is constantly wearing nice Jordans and a chain gifted to him by Lil Wayne. Sure, it may seem kind of banal, but once again, Skip's desire to have an alter-ego is proof that his opinions are all part of his on-air character. In many ways, it's like everyone's least favorite wrestler who is used as the heal to prop up the "hero." These wrestlers exaggerate their negative traits to give people even more of a reason to tune in and watch them get owned. With Skip, it's the exact same concept but in a completely different context. You could even look towards Howard Stern in the 80s, whose ratings were highest amongst those who actually hated him because they wanted to hear what he had to say.
As far as Bayless' tactics are concerned, they're not exclusive to him. To an extent, Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and even Shannon Sharpe are playing exaggerated versions of themselves in order to get people's attention. Political pundits like Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, Alex Jones, and John Oliver all do the same thing. At the end of the day, punditry is a form of performance art and whether you like it or not, it's going to continue to govern the media you enjoy on a day to day basis. So the next time you go to angrily quote tweet Skip on Twitter after he calls LeBron a scrub, just remember to keep all of this in mind.