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Channing Frye on the Lakers, Bucks, and what it’s like to be broadcaster

A Q&A with the former NBA veteran on the start of his broadcasting career and the two best teams in the NBA.

A collage of Giannis Antetokounmpo (left), Channing Frye (center), and LeBron James (right).
Bucks-Lakers is the marquee matchup of the week in the NBA.

SB Nation had the chance to sit down with TNT’s Channing Frye ahead of Thursday night’s Lakers vs. Bucks game.

SB NATION: You dabbled in media as a player, but did you always know you’d want to get into broadcasting in some form or fashion after you retired from the NBA?

CHANNING FRYE: You know what, I grew up around it. My mom worked for Channel 12, NBC, out in Phoenix. So I’ve sort of just been around it, and in all honesty I just like to talk. I think the game is amazing. The game imitates life, with the drama and the growing up of players, and so for me to be able to translate that—to show how amazing the game of basketball is and how good of a product the NBA is—it’s kind of my pleasure.

Even though I’m retired from basketball, I have an opportunity to do some things at Turner, NBC Sports, and my own podcast. But I started the [Road Trippin’ podcast] basically for the free wine. Richard [Jefferson] wanted to do it for the reps, and he said here, be our first guest. So I said ‘well I’m not coming up unless you give me a bottle of wine.’ And then it just became our thing. We’d always have a bottle of wine. I think the best stories are told with friends, sitting at a dinner table and just kind of talking about life, man.

SB: Your show, Handles, is a bit non-traditional. Did you have any other offers in media after you retired, and how did you land in this particular job?

CF: I did have other offers, and I thought, for me, if I’m going to go into this arena, if I’m gonna go into this new field, why not go into it with something that I would want to watch, something that I’m interested in that probably hasn’t ever been done before?

Right now I look at people, rarely does anyone just watch the game anymore. They’re looking at social media. What’s going on. I want to see who dunked on who. So why not create a show that’s based on that? Why not be a part of a show that takes in everything that happens during a game, whether it’s someone getting crossed, someone’s outfit being atrocious, or somebody having 50 points? We’re both celebrating and joking around about the drama that happens on Wednesday nights when there’s 10 or 11 games going on.

SB: Do you ever have a fear of being too critical?

CF: Sometimes. But I always say this: Anytime I write something or say something, just know—my teammates can vouch for me—I would say that to that person’s face. I never talk about a player personally, I just don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think there’s a place in media to talk about a player personally, but if I want to talk about your game yeah, I’m gonna be extremely critical of you based on that one game. But at the same time I just want to see good product out there.

Now if you take that personally, either you’re sensitive or or don’t know me and don’t know my voice of, like, if I go ‘dude that’s a trash shot’ I’ll go back to the film and if you want to explain to me why it’s coming down five times, not passing the ball to your teammates and jacking up five bad shots is bad basketball, and there’s no if ands or buts. These are facts. You know? Where if I said ‘Hey, it just doesn’t look like you have energy,’ that is a fact. It does not look like you have energy or passion on the court! Now we can go look at what I saw, and you can say ‘Hey, I’m just not that type of guy,’ OK cool. I’m wrong. I have no problem being wrong. I love it when somebody goes ‘Channing you’re wrong’.

And one example, I was talking about the Houston Rockets and I said ‘Hey I think the Houston Rockets are gonna lose in the first round this year,’ and one of the big-time Houston Rockets fans goes ‘nope because we went to the Western Conference Finals, blah blah blah, this is what the percentages say’. I said ‘Listen,’ll lose in the second round’.

I don’t mind arguing back and forth with people who have actual information. But when you say ‘Oh Channing you suck,’ well no I don’t suck because I don’t play anymore. And two, it’s just like when you come at me, that means you don’t have a rebuttal to my question or my statement with actual numbers.

SB: Have any players confronted you from something you’ve said on the air?

CF: No. Heck no. No, no, no, no, no. At the end of the day, the only people I really talk about, honestly, are players I’ve played with. And they know me. What you’re getting on Twitter is me sitting on a bench, just with a lot less cuss words. Honestly.

if I saw somebody getting dunked on, for sure on the text chain I would have those gifs and memes up immediately on the airplane, win or lose. Because at the end of the day, whether you win or lose, you prepare to win, and you have a 50/50 chance of winning that game, no matter how how hard you play. So if you take yourself that seriously after the game, then you have some other issues.

SB: As a basketball fan and someone who’s competed with and against so many of the guys who will take part, what interests you the most about tonight’s game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers?

CF: Well, I’ll say this, whether people know it or not, we’re in the age of the big man. At the forefront was Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, obviously Arvydas Sabonis, and even Yao Ming: Skilled big men who can pass, shoot, defend multiple positions and score on the block.

You look at some of these lineups that both of these teams can put out there, you have God knows how many all-stars at the three, four, five positions. You have Hall of Famers. You have MVPs. It is going to be a battle. Both coaches are definitely amazing and top of their class at getting their teams prepared. So I’ll be interested to see what happens, like, can Milwaukee shoot better than the Lakers can play defense? Who’s Giannis gonna guard? Who’s gonna guard Anthony Davis? Is LeBron gonna guard Giannis? [The Bucks] can mess around and play a lineup of Robin Lopez, Brook Lopez, [Ersan] Ilyasova, Giannis, and Eric Bledsoe. That’s huge, and they all work within that system, because they’re all skilled players. That’s what’s gonna be exciting, to see where the league has evolved to, to now your superstars are seven-foot tall ball-handlers, shooters, passers, shot blockers, everything. I think it’s great for the league.

SB: You’ve played in Finals preview matchups during the regular season when you were in Cleveland. What can you learn about your opponent that’s meaningful in a matchup like that?

CF: Yeah, it’s all mental. You want to see which guys shine bright. I’ll just say for me, my scouting report would be: the Bucks are a system team. Giannis makes them go. I want to make Eric Bledsoe beat me. At the end of the day, Eric Bledsoe has to get 25-plus points to beat me. I’m not gonna let Brook Lopez take over in the fourth quarter on the block, getting fouled, grabbing rebounds, and shooting threes. I want them to play one-on-one basketball, because I just don’t think they’re successful that way.

But then on the other side if I’m the Bucks, I want anybody else, except for Bron and AD to beat me. I want to see what Kuzma’s gonna do against my defenders. I want to see, is Rondo gonna score? Are they gonna throw it to Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee to score? For them, I want them to run their sets all the way through and slow the pace of the game down.

SB: Did you expect the Lakers to be this good this early?

CF: This early? No. I did not. Did I expect them to be good? Heck yeah. Heck yeah. Any team with LeBron and AD, if you’re anywhere close to .500, somebody needs to get fired.

SB: Which team is easier to score on?

CF: I’m gonna say the Bucks. I think the Bucks, defensively, are built to play the percentages. They stick to their principles, they stick to their rotations. Where the Lakers just have dudes that are just like, ‘lock him down’.

SB: Who’s the best player in the world right now?

CF: [Deep sigh]. I don’t think there’s one. But I would say, of the four best players, three of them are in this game. I would say Anthony Davis, LeBron, and Giannis. And then the fourth would be James Harden. Fifth would be Luka.

SB: What about Kawhi?

CF: He hasn’t done it this year. He has championship remorse right now.

SB: So you can’t separate LeBron, Giannis, and AD?

CF: Listen, at the end of the day. If you have any one of those three players, and you’re not vying for a championship, that is your fault as a GM. For not putting better players around those guys. Honestly. If you have any three, and you’re not going for a championship, there’s some problems.