How exactly will JR Smith be greeted in Cleveland when the Cavs host the Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals? I’m picturing the scene in The Hangover when Zach Galifianakis isn’t sure if he should clap as his friends unknowingly volunteer to demonstrate the effects of a stun gun. The Cleveland home crowd might feel similarly confused on Wednesday night for a much different reason.
Smith committed one of the all-time boo boos in NBA Finals history last Thursday. With the score tied at 107 apiece, Smith grabbed a rebound with 4.7 seconds remaining. The only problem was that the score being tied was news to JR. He dribbled out 3.5 seconds of the remaining time before a desperation shot by George Hill was blocked by Draymond Green. The Cavs lost in overtime 124-114. Ouch.
Following the loss, Smith only made his mental error worse by committing — that’s right — another mental error. Instead of telling the truth about the end of regulation in Game 1, he decided to see if the entire world was born a day prior. JR said that he knew the score was tied and that he was just creating enough space between himself and Kevin Durant. Yeah, and I’m actually Oprah Winfrey.
Smith changed his story two days later. “After thinking about it a lot after the last 24 hours and however long it’s been since the game was over, I can’t say I was sure of anything at that point,” he said. This actually translates to, “I guess you guys aren’t dumb enough to believe my ridiculous lie.”
This is a good lesson for sports radio hosts. Make sure you’re sitting down for this, but sometimes we make mistakes too. I know, it’s shocking. It’s a wise approach to simply own those screw ups. Don’t make excuses and come up with crazy lies. Just admit that you made a mistake and move on. Nobody likes to have their intelligence insulted. When that happens, some people believe it provides clearance and incentive to be even more ruthless. You want to cool those engines down, not rev them up.
What works even better than admitting a mistake is finding ways to laugh at yourself. I’ll never forget something a friend and former co-worker, Bruce Jacobs, once said during the Manti Te’o fiasco. When the former Notre Dame linebacker’s girlfriend turned out to be as real as my eight-car garage, Bruce said “Te’o should laugh at himself. Don’t go on Katie Couric and have a serious conversation, show up on David Letterman and do a Top Ten List. Beating the critics to the punch takes most of the fun out of it for them.”
It’s like the rap battle at the end of 8 Mile when Eminem makes fun of himself. The other rapper has no idea what to say next. Imagine instead if Eminem’s verse was filled with lies about the cars he drove, houses he lived in, and women that all loved him. That other rapper would’ve eaten him alive. Then where would the universe be?
I realize that JR Smith is still smack dab in the middle of the NBA Finals and can’t make fun of himself like he’s hosting a roast on Comedy Central. Fans hate when players on a losing team laugh while on the bench in the closing minutes. JR rattling off 20 one-liners about his epic mistake would be received much worse.
A little self-deprecation can go a long way though. Smith could’ve taken a lot of the enjoyment away from the people that are lambasting him. I like the approach of Smith saying something like, “Man, I picked the worst time ever to be inducted into the Shaqtin’ a Fool Hall of Fame. But honestly, I feel sick about it. I have to be better going forward because my team deserves it.”
We get the best of both worlds — some comic relief with Smith laughing at himself, followed by the goal of making up for his colossal mistake. Look, I don’t care how tough you think you are. If you were given the loudest ovation of any player in Game 2 pregame introductions while on the road, and also heard M-V-P chants at the free throw line like JR did, you wouldn’t feel great about it. I’d try to lighten that load as much as possible when appropriate.
Laughing at yourself is a valuable tool to have. Think about Charles Barkley. One of the main reasons he’s a megastar is that he possesses a great ability to make fun of himself. Barkley doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has slid a donut from his forehead to his mouth without using any hands before. He laughs at his horrible golf swing. He doesn’t get defensive if someone cracks on his weight. He isn’t sensitive about his lack of athleticism while doing yoga poses or, well, anything athletic whatsoever.
There is something endearing about a person that has thick skin and can laugh at themselves. It’s disarming and makes us feel good. And when we feel good, we mostly start showing those people support and acceptance instead of tearing them down.
If you’ve ever made a bunch of bad predictions as a radio host — and please don’t act as if you haven’t — don’t go on the air and start talking about your predictions being right if this or that happened. Have some fun with it. Laugh about how awful you did. Jokingly compare those terrible picks to other terrible things in life to see which is worse. If you can’t laugh at yourself in life, someone else will laugh at you much louder.
Whether it’s a bad play in sports or a bad comment on the air, what’s done is done. It’s all about how you handle each mistake going forward. Own it, and when appropriate, make fun of yourself about it. Many hosts fall into the trap of only thinking about what’s good for them. Be constantly aware of what’s good for the show. When you look at it that way, you’ll see that being the occasional butt of a joke is actually the best option.