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In Defense of Skip Bayless

Skip Bayless got absolutely crushed by Mark Cuban on air yesterday. In case you spent your Friday curled up in the fetal position watching Law & Order: SVU reruns, here’s the video again.

Skip’s central arguments:

“Was that not the biggest collapse of a superstar we’ve ever witnessed on a Finals or Championship stage?”

“Never been a star under more pressure than LeBron James after 9 years and 3 league MVPs.”

“Who played harder in every game? LeBron played harder than Kevin Durant did four straight games.”

“I think LeBron shrank in the fourth quarter … All he did was stand out on the perimeter.”

“For a fact, LeBron James listened to what I said for about 8 years. He said I was his Howard Cosell. Now he tuned us out.”

Individually ingested, these points knot the stomach. Taken as a whole, they’re a masterpiece of delusion and idiocy … but they also provide value to the 24/7 news cycle.

It’s called First Take … not Best Take. That’s Pardon The Interruption‘s department; Tony & Mike have the market cornered on reasoned, engaging discussion, do a damn good job of it and for ESPN to jack that show’s format and execution for the morning crowd doesn’t form the proper narrative arc.

See, there’s a reason ESPN decided to make Skip Bayless the centerpiece of the hour-long debate show First Take: Skip’s knee-jerk reactions are conversation starters. They’re bold, unapologetic, loaded and impossible to prove 100% correct. They’re begging to have holes poked in them.

There’s a reason ESPN rescued Stephen A. Smith from Media Siberia to join Skip: He’s an expert hole-poker. (Not a euphemism.) Just like Mark Cuban. Just like Bomani Jones. Just like Jalen Rose. It is Skip’s counterparts’ counterpoints that raise the level of discourse and heighten our awareness of the nuance of argument.

If you watch ESPN’s daily TV programming from First Take through PTI, the refinement and efficiency of the verbal combatants (with the notable exception of the charmingly silly Woody Paige) increases as the day progresses. Skip Bayless provides a foundation that’s purposely flawed so the rest of the day can be spent polishing the storyline before it’s die-cast.

That’s not to say Skip is intentionally wrong. I would bet, more often than not, he believes every blundered word that escapes his pie-hole. But Skip is not afraid to be wrong, which is what makes his maniacal, sweeping generalities and delusions of grandeur subject to merciless WTF’ing from fans, viewers, athletes and other media. His First Takes stoke the fire that burn down the buildings where the truth isn’t and lead us to where it is hiding.

But that’s Skip’s function, not Skip himself. I’ve heard multiple Bristol sources claim that by all accounts, Skip is a reasoned, amiable, quick-witted fella. Stephen A. Smith has admitted several times both on and off-air he and Skip have been good friends for nearly two decades. Skip’s earned props from peers and actually authored a helluva book in “God’s Coach.” He’s no dummy. He knows what he’s up to and probably dives daily Scrooge McDuck-style into an Olympic-sized swimming pool of CREAM.

You can disagree with Skip Bayless all you want. I do every day. I even find his on-air presence to be stifling, suffocating, overly sanctimonious and worthy of frequent spit-takes. In most cases, there’s no reason to assign merit to the content or delivery of his opinions.

But there is merit to what Skip does: He tees up microwavable talking points for fans too lazy to question their validity, and for sparring partners too gifted to not knock into the upper-deck … on his show and throughout the rest of the day.

By distilling the discourse to it’s core, Skip Bayless allows the argument to open up and reveal it’s subtle flavor notes as it ages.

We may not like Skip, we may not want Skip … but ESPN knows we need Skip. And there’s honestly no one better at doing what he does than Skip. If there was, I’m sure we’d be watching that person instead, and banging our heads against the desk even harder.