The bosses asked Kendrick Perkins for a list of people he’d be willing to co-host a podcast alongside.
The former NBA center supplied his ESPN superiors one name. Informed that the requested individual’s normal job responsibilities precluded any time for a podcast, Perkins didn’t even answer.
That was about six months ago. The name was his longtime friend Marcus Spears, the NFL analyst and former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman.
“My schedule was crazy,” said Spears, a member of ESPN’s daily “NFL Live” show and who regularly appears on morning shows “Get Up!” and “First Take.” “I was like, ‘No.’ Then they was like, ‘What about doing it with Perk?’ I said ‘Yeah!’”
Two decades removed from first meeting one another through the same Houston AAU program, Spears and Perkins, two of the fastest-rising analysts at the network, debuted the eponymous (counting nicknames) “Swagu & Perk” on Tuesday.
The weekly podcast, sans guests, will consist of about an hour conversation between the two, offering a pair of ex-athletes’ perspectives on the news of the day and the happenings in their own lives. Their first episode touched on locker-room dynamics through the lens of the recent Anthony Davis-Dwight Howard spat with the Los Angeles Lakers, and they highlighted a group of Black Louisiana fathers dispelling school violence.
“We both country as hell,” Perkins told USA TODAY Sports. “We’re going to give it to you raw. We’ll talk with the broken English. We might say some words you don’t understand. One thing about it, you’re not going to have to look in the dictionary or encyclopedia to see what’s coming out of our mouths.”
Their goal is to be unique for the segment of ESPN’s audience that the stable of existing podcasts don’t cover while being relatable, the formula that has driven their success on television.
“I didn’t want the podcast to be work,” Spears told USA TODAY Sports. “I wanted to show up, turn the mic on and chop it up with somebody that was going to give me the same type of energy, that wasn’t always going to agree with me.
“People like to say 50-50. We come 100-100.”
During last season’s NBA playoffs, Spears called Perkins asking why the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t guarding Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets. They discussed the topic for nearly two hours, an uncommon occurrence when one phoned the other.
“Now you’re going to give us a platform to share with the world what we’ve been talking about? That’s what sealed it for me,” Spears said.
Together, they want to contradict the notion that the coveted analyst seats on sports networks need to be filled by Hall of Famers. Both played for iconic franchises but want to show the rank-and-file players that their careers can flourish in media beyond the playing days.
Certain athletes have cushy post-playing broadcast situations to fall into, such as Drew Brees and NBC or Charles Barkley and Turner.
“That don’t happen for guys like Swagu and myself,” said Perkins, who also appears on “Get Up!” “First Take” and the network’s new daily NBA program “NBA Today.” “You don’t just fall into the top of the platform.”
Perkins, a champion with the 2008 Boston Celtics, became a staple on ESPN’s basketball content with strong opinions and a harkening for calling out the game’s stars, including Durant. Spears started his TV career by hosting an outdoors show and then went to SEC Network under the ESPN umbrella before advancing to become one of the most prominent football analysts.
Equally grateful for their paths, neither has lost an ounce of authenticity.
“The one thing about me and Perk, everything surprises us,” Spears said. “We at ESPN and we got a podcast? Like what?”
Spears and Perkins entered the business while expectations existed about how analysts are supposed to sit, talk and look. Perkins remembers an executive from a different network reaching out to him once, advocating that he hire a speech consultant to make him conform to television norms.
“I hung up the phone and I was like, ‘Man, get your a– outta here,'” Perkins said. “I ain’t doing that.”
And there is comfort in doing their latest venture, the podcast, with that same attitude.
“I just take pride in the fact me and Perk were like, ‘Man eff that,’” Spears said. “We’re going to be ourselves.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.