The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On set with Patrick Beverley, the say-anything star of the NBA playoffs

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Patrick Beverley showed off his analyst chops with “SportsCenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt after Game 1 of the NBA Finals last week. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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On Thursday night, in the hours after Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, Patrick Beverley was camped out in Scott Van Pelt’s “SportsCenter” studio in the basement of a building near Dupont Circle. He wore a colorful striped sweater and black pants and had his hair in braids.

He already had been live with Van Pelt for four segments, sitting at a desk in the middle of the room, surrounded by three walls of big-screen TVs. He had called out Draymond Green’s poor performance in the Warriors’ fourth-quarter collapse. And he had joked that if he had won an NBA Finals game, he would be so excited that he would be on top of the rim. “Get down from there, Pat!” he had said on TV.

Now finished for the night, Beverley had thanked Van Pelt for having him and was walking off the set when Van Pelt called out to him.

“If you ever need anything or want to do this again, let me know how I can help,” Van Pelt said.

“Not for me, brother,” Beverley said with a smile as the production crew removed his microphone.

Beverley, a 33-year-old guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has been the breakout media star of the NBA playoffs, appearing on several ESPN platforms after his team was eliminated. Nothing was splashier than when Beverley, after the Dallas Mavericks dispatched the Phoenix Suns in Game 7, lit into Suns star Chris Paul. He called him a “cone” on defense. He licked his lips like a hungry lion in another segment, explaining players’ excitement to play against him.

“You know what this means?” he asked. “Licking my chops.”

It lit up the internet, launching takes and counter-takes across social media and, of course, other segments on ESPN. It left the 10-year veteran defensive specialist as a person of interest in media circles, with executives and other insiders wondering what angle Beverley was playing — and what kind of a media career he is after.

“Hell, no,” Beverley said when asked whether he had reached out to ESPN about contributing to its playoff coverage. “I’ve got s--- to do in the summertime. If they ask me, I might do it, but I’m not in line waiting like a lot of these guys.”

Beverley, sitting in a hotel bar in downtown D.C. a few hours before Game 1, was proclaiming himself the anti-media star at a time when active athletes, especially NBA players, are increasingly joining the media ranks while still playing, either by establishing their own brands or auditioning for someone else’s.

LeBron James has a TV show produced by his own production company. The New Orleans Pelicans’ CJ McCollum, also working for ESPN during these playoffs, has a podcast. Green has a podcast and makes appearances on TNT. When JJ Redick was still playing, he had a podcast, and now he works for ESPN.

“I’m not a big podcast guy,” Beverley said. “If I did it, I’d kill it. And I mean if it’s for the right price, I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it well. But I’m not going to Best Buy trying to set up a podcast.”

The ambivalence makes for compelling TV.

“I don’t think he’s saying stuff to get a reaction,” Van Pelt said in an interview. “He’s answering the questions he’s asked, and he truly doesn’t give a s--- if it bothers or offends you.”

Van Pelt recalled Beverley appearing on his show a few years ago. When the anchor finished his questions, he said, Beverley asked why there weren’t more. (Beverley wasn’t a paid contributor then.)

“I don’t remember another interview subject who protested at the end of it because they didn’t feel it had been sufficient,” Van Pelt said. “Pat is interesting, and he’s interested. Not a lot of athletes ask you questions about yourself, much less care about the answers.”

For these playoffs, Beverley signed what is called a “broadleaf contract” with ESPN, good for 15 days of work at the network. Two industry agents pegged the range for such a deal as usually between $3,000 and $10,000 per day. For his Game 1 appearance, the network flew him from Minnesota to D.C., where Van Pelt tapes, and put him up for the night. He is likely to be back on ESPN later in the Finals.

His curiosity was evident. He asked members of the crew what time they might get home after such a late night. He wandered over to the set of another ESPN show, “Pardon the Interruption,” and looked at a desk full of bobbleheads and other tchotchkes. “What’s the oldest thing here, you think?” he asked as he examined a leaf from the Wrigley Field ivy that was enclosed in a glass case.

After the game, Beverley watched Green’s news conference, where the Warriors star attempted some quick mental arithmetic to explain Boston’s hot shooting. Beverley whispered to himself: “Eight times three is 24, minus one is 23. Come on, Draymond.”

Beverley’s analysis was informative, too, a nod to the basketball IQ of a player who spent several years grinding in Europe before he got his NBA shot. At one point during a break, Van Pelt asked Beverley about adjustments for Game 2 and whether the media might oversell tweaks from one game to another. Beverley said he had a few ideas, and Van Pelt asked him to save them for live TV.

“For Golden State, more split offense,” Beverley said a few minutes later. “I mean, Draymond Green underneath the free throw line. He has the ball in the post. ... They went away from that, and you see Draymond get most of his threes at the top of the key. If I’m the Boston Celtics, I’m inviting that.”

Beverley said his basketball plan for the future is focused on coaching. But that hasn’t stopped the incoming calls. His broadcast agent, Gina Paradiso, said Barstool Sports, Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions and Colin Cowherd’s podcast network have reached out to gauge his interest in working together. Beverley likes the idea of something unfiltered, without any bosses telling him what he can and can’t say. “My s--- has to be all organic,” he said.

And as long as ESPN is paying him, he intends to deliver his best, learning — and teaching — as he goes. When he finished one segment with Van Pelt, a production staffer tried to politely ask Beverley to move his chair off the set. Beverley quickly corrected him.

“Just tell me to get the f--- out,” he said. “Like, ‘Get your a-- out.’ I perform better that way.”

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