In sports media, personality reigns supreme. Over the past few years, podcasts such as The Dan Le Batard with Stugotz Show and The Bill Simmons Podcast have attracted huge audiences, owing in large part to the guys—and they’re almost always guys—who’ve made their programs about sports as much as about themselves, with a flurry of in-jokes and self-references. Perhaps the greatest and most in-joke heavy of these personality-forward podcasts, and certainly the most underrated, is Back to Back.
The brainchild of Jade Hoye, previously of ESPN’s TrueHoop and The Basketball Analogy podcasts, Back to Back, part of the Count the Dings network, is effectively three shows in one, with a different segment each Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Each show is funny, wide-ranging, and insightful, thanks to the roster of quick-witted fans, insiders, and sportswriters that Hoye has recruited as hosts.
Basketball Buds, a breakdown of basketball news, airs on Tuesdays. It’s hosted most regularly by Zach Harper, a writer for The Athletic, with as many as ten other Back to Back personalities sitting in. On a recent “emergency episode,” the crew hashed out the drama surrounding the Timberwolves’ dysfunction and Jimmy Butler’s decision to demand a trade, wreaking havoc on the team’s first practice of the year. Thursdays are Nerder She Wrote, an analytical breakdown of statistics and a deep dive into the minutia of the game, hosted by NBA commentator Dave Dufour and coach David Thorpe.
The Friday Mailbag is the week’s highlight. On it, the Back to Back gang fields listener questions on dating, life, and sports. But the discussion digresses and gets so sidetracked that the group might answer only three or four questions during a two-hour show. The crew impersonates one another’s catchphrases and vocal tics, and offers increasingly suspect “hot takes,” like how cereal is technically a soup. As a result, the show feels as though it might spiral into jokes and “dings” (Hoye uses a ding sound effect whenever he finds something particularly funny) at any moment. To wrap up the Friday Mailbag, Hoye brings on his mother, Valerie, a retired schoolteacher turned amateur TV critic, to review her favorite shows of the week.
The Count the Dings network, which Hoye runs, produces several shows, in addition to Back to Back, that cover sports and culture. The Daily Ding is a rundown on the NBA action from the night before, and on Black Opinions Matter—which recently moved from Back to Back to its own feed—hosts Amin Elhassan, Big Wos, and Blk Tray take a deep dive into popular culture, discussing shows such as Insecure and Power; they also recently analyzed the on-court fight between NBA players Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
Given Back to Back’s personality-centric focus, it’s easy for listeners, once in on the jokes, to feel as if they’re a part of the gang. And the thing is, listeners can, in fact, join Back to Back. Several regular contributors started as listeners, then graduated to becoming co-hosts. The fact that a fan, through Twitter exchanges and participating in live shows, has a chance to join Back to Back further underscores the podcast’s close relationship with listeners. But, in a sports-media landscape sustained by self-serious gas bagging, the real charm of Back to Back and the Count the Dings family remains the blend of expertise and solid information and the lively and diverse personalities—a still rare combination among other sports outlets.