Local sports talk personality makes the move to ESPN

VegaBlue Studios

Sports talk personality Bomani Jones is already pretty well known to many sports fans – especially locals – but he’s about to get a lot more familiar to a lot more people.

Jones, who lived in Durham until this month, has been a presence on local and syndicated sports radio programs for the past seven years. He started making frequent guest appearances on ESPN shows such as “Outside the Lines” and “Around the Horn” in 2010. Recently, Jones signed a four-year contract with ESPN that gives him a regular presence on ESPN’s TV, radio and online outlets. He immediately relocated to Miami for his daily (Monday-Friday) appearances on ESPN2’s “Highly Questionable” program.

Jones, an Atlanta native who got one of his two master’s degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill, talked to us recently from Miami about how he got started in radio and TV, and what his new gig entails. Here is an edited and abbreviated version of that conversation.

Q: Did you get involved with radio while in college? Nope, it was while I was in Raleigh. I had written an article in 2006 (for about the Hurricanes’ run to the Stanley Cup finals. I wrote about how I’d keep seeing all these people in their cars who love the Hurricanes, but I don’t know any in real life – which really angered some Hurricanes fans. Joe Ovies and Adam Gold invited me to come to the station to talk about that and a couple of other things. This was at 620 the Bull and 850 the Buzz. I had never really done radio before but from there, that’s where the radio part got started.

Q: How did you catch the attention of ESPN? I used to do freelance writing for ESPN. ... I guess it was in 2010 I started getting calls about doing appearances on “Outside the Lines.” I did one of those and then you do another and you do another, and next thing I knew there would be times where two or three times a week they would call me on and I would keep coming. And from there, along with some social media stuff, is when I think “Around the Horn” became aware of me and I got an email from them asking if I could come on. I figured I had two options: I could go on and hope that they called me again, or I could go on and pretend like they were never gonna call me, so what did I have to lose? So I chose No. 2 and it just so happened that they did call back.

Q: What do you think it is about you that makes you stand out from other local sports talk people? The one thing I think I did a little bit different than people locally is I was a bit more “in your face” about some of the things that I had to say. I feel like, the idea that everybody has an opinion in one way makes people very – I guess apprehensive is not the right word. But they’re, “Hey, it’s just my opinion, it’s no big deal” and they kind of back off of it. I say, “Hey, it’s my opinion, it’s no big deal” but that’s a reason to push it more, because why not, it’s just an opinion. These are the conversations we have, and sometimes you have to be intense about the way that you talk about these things. ... I also engage a lot more pop culture stuff than a lot of people do. I used to work as a music critic for many years, and the music of my shows that I did locally was very important, and the comparisons that I would make would often be to music stuff rather than sports stuff, or movie stuff rather than sports stuff. Or I would mix in some of the things I’d picked up in graduate studies in economics and things I’d learned teaching courses. I don’t think there was anybody that had a combination of as many points of reference as I had when I started doing radio.

Q. Tell me what a typical Bomani Jones day is like. I get up and the first thing I do is go to the computer and start looking for things to contribute to “Highly Questionable.” So I take a look at what the producers have already put together in terms of topics, and I try to throw in some things I think might be worth talking about and give some insights of what I think about some of the things they’ve offered. From there, I go to the studio and we shoot “Highly Questionable,” which takes about an hour and a half, give or take. And then if “Around the Horn” comes, it’s right after that. Some days I have to write. ... At night, these games – they do have to be watched! I’m in a city now where I can actually go to some of them.

Q. Has anyone at ESPN, either when you got started or recently, ever given you any really good career advice? I first got introduced to the folks at ESPN almost 10 years ago now by a gentleman named Ralph Wiley, who is like my favorite sportswriter ever. He passed away in 2004, but I’ll never forget what he told me many years ago. He said after he’d read something I’d written, “You appear to be a master of overstatement. I myself am a master of understatement. But whatever you do, be a master of something.” There’s got to be something that when people see you come on screen, they’ve got to be able to know that there’s something that you’re good at. I haven’t exactly figured out what my one good thing is necessarily, but I like to think that I’m able to put together a wide range of ideas and synthesize them in a way that you don’t find everyday. But you’ve got to be good at something. Being good is cool, but being good at something really helps.

Q. You probably get this question too much, but what’s your full name and who were you named after? My name is Bomani Babatunde Jones. I’m not named after anyone. I just have pan-African parents and this is the name that, however they came across it, they came across it. My middle name, though, means “return of the father” and it’s a common name in a few different languages for children who were born after the death of a grandfather, for example. So my father’s father died about a year before I was born, so that’s the attachment to the name.

Q. A great name for TV. Have you thanked your parents for it? I tell you, it doesn’t hurt. But my dad’s name is Mack Jones, which is actually the best name you could have for TV. He wins the cool name contest.