Jason Concepcion’s Takes on the World

Jason Concepcion. Photo: Felisha Tolentino for Crooked Media

To be a close follower of Jason Concepcion’s work — whether it’s the beloved pop culture deep-dive podcast Binge Mode, the Emmy award-winning NBA Desktop, his integral role on The Hottest Take, or simply the five-alarm takes published under his Twitter moniker, netw3rk — is to appreciate a kind of balance. There’s an electricity to his voluminous output, equal parts chaos, anarchy, and sheer energy. But his work is also grounded by a distinct thoughtfulness that shines through even as a take or a discussion goes off the rails, generally cut with a genuine sense of hope and appreciation. You get the sense that he just wants things to be better than they are.

Last fall, Concepcion announced that, after almost a decade working under Bill Simmons (first at Grantland, then at the Ringer), he was leaving to join Crooked Media, the political podcast powerhouse. At his new home, he’ll be working on an assortment of projects, starting with Takeline, a NBA podcast that he’ll co-host with the retired WNBA star and activist Renee Montgomery, and ALL CAPS NBA, an energetic video series not unlike NBA Desktop. Both productions make their debuts this week.

Vulture spoke with Concepcion about his move to Crooked, his latest projects, and how he approaches the creation of takes.

Between the popularity of Binge Mode and winning an Emmy for NBA Desktop, your options seemed pretty open. What drew you to Crooked Media?

Well, it was an opportunity to go somewhere where I could really lean into some of my ideals in a significant way while still being able to cover the things I love talking about. I’m not an expert in politics in the way a lot of my new colleagues at Crooked are, but I do feel a strong general unease with how things are going. And when it comes to sports, I also feel an intense dissatisfaction with some of the discourse around that, this lack of latitude to talk about issues that aren’t directly related to a sporting event.

The events of the past 12 months — and, you know, the three or four years before that — really hammered home for me that I wanted to be more active in the things that are happening in the world in whatever way that was possible for me. To be at a place where there are people who can say, “Here are the things that are being done, here are the things we can talk about,” and just having more resources available that I could call on to truly understand how to fight against things like voter suppression and amplify voices who are calling for social justice … that really appealed to me.

Crooked Media wasn’t really an opportunity I was thinking about when I was looking around for what my next step would be after the Ringer. But when they came up, it scratched an itch that I was only vaguely aware that I would wanna have scratched. And the more I thought about it, the more perfect it seemed.

Concepcion’s new podcast with Renee Montgomery. Photo: Crooked Media

So you’ve got Takeline, a sports podcast with Renee Montgomery, and a video series called ALL CAPS NBA. Will you be working on anything else at Crooked besides sports?

[Takeline is] a sports show, but we’re really going to lean into topics that you might not find in other talk shows: labor disputes, racial equality. We’re going to do those things in a way that’s singular to Crooked.

I’m going to pop up on other stuff across Crooked as well, but those are the two things we’re focused on in the first month. The thing I’ve been telling people is that if there’s something you like that I did at the Ringer, I’ll be doing the same thing at Crooked Media. The brand is going to be the same.

You’re always juggling a multitude of projects, across a range of interests, from Game of Thrones to the Toronto Raptors. How do you balance staying up to date with everything at once?

Okay, well, generally speaking … I’ll get up, look at the news for a few hours until the pre-production meeting, where we’ll figure out the shape of the show and the rundown. Then I’ll have an hour or two between that and when we record, and I’ll use that to prep based on what our outline is: reading whatever happened about a story so I can be up-to-date, listening to the requisite pods to hear what the really smart people are saying about a certain topic. Then we’ll record, and that will take about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Then the video team goes away and starts working on the first cut.

That’s when I’ll transition to NBA games. I’m on the West Coast, so that probably starts around four o’clock. I’ll have a couple of those up, and as I’m watching the game, if there’s anything particularly interesting happening, I’m in touch with the Takeline and ALL CAPS NBA team, and we’ll talk about that and shoot the breeze regarding whatever games or topics we’re thinking of.

When the games end, hopefully I’ll have time to watch something for pleasure, but normally I’m either watching something for research, read a bunch of things, or write stuff I have to work on. Then I would go to bed.

You have a reputation for having mastered the art of the take. Give me a peek at the take-making process: Do you usually write your takes down? How do you typically conceptualize a take?

So, when I have a strong opinion about things, my personal brand of takes is to be knowingly ridiculous. I try to go to the theoretical edge of what that take actually is. Generally speaking, it’s both self-referential to the art form of the Take, but also kind of plausible as an actual take content-wise.

So, somewhere between surreality and reality?

Right, something like that.

So, one of my long-running takes is that using people as dunk props during the All-Star Dunk Contest should not be allowed because someone could get injured. Now, with the recent All-Star Game — which nobody cares about but I think we should continue to talk about because, and I mean this sincerely, people risked their lives to do it, and it’s crazy to me that we’re living in this world where we just kind of accept it — I wrote this take, just to give you an example, about what [New York Knicks star rookie] Obi Toppin could have done differently when he dunked over [Knicks star] Julius Randle and his father, and how that should not have been allowed because it could have legitimately ruined the Knicks’ season. It’s like the President, Vice President, and Speaker of the House on the same plane. They should not have let him do that dunk.

Is that a ridiculous stance? Kind of. But also, I do kind of believe it.

It also sounds like an extension of an eternal conundrum you grapple with if you’re a sports fan with a moral compass in any way — this arbitrariness of sports even existing. What’s your relationship with that feeling?

You know, before the pandemic, I strongly believed that all of this doesn’t matter. Sports are obviously a construct. The fact that a basket is two points or three points … this is all made up as you went along, and it’s all entertainment. And also, like, calls for purity and weird adherence to the traditions of sports were really kind of laughable, because we shouldn’t be taking it that seriously.

But during the pandemic, I just had so many people be like, “Hey, I listened to this podcast and it really took my mind off things for an hour,” or ‘I watched the NBA Bubble, and it helped me really just not thinking about the pandemic for a while.” And I guess I’ve come to recalibrate what I feel is the value of sports in society.

There really is something profound about these big cultural containers like sports, or things like Marvel movies and Harry Potter. We live in this extremely polarized world, right? It’s a world where I don’t try to engage with people who disagree with me politically because it’s infuriating. We’re divided economically, we’re divided by who has the privilege to not go into a public workplace.

So, the places we do still kind of gather together with people who we disagree with end up being these huge metaphorical spaces like sports, Harry Potter, or Marvel movies. That’s the one place I’m most likely to engage in a conversation with someone who directly disagrees with me. In that sense, there’s something interesting going on — these popular ideals, water cooler things are worth considering in that regard.

Culture is a reflection of what society thinks is valuable and worthwhile, right? And the way a society says those values still matter to me is by making something extremely popular, right? There’s something worthwhile in thinking about the vast world-dominating popularity of Endgame. Sports is worth consideration in the same way.

Obviously, a lot of the culture war conversations around sports are pretty overt, but that is the top-level symptom of something actually very interesting, which is “how can we all cooperate in this large cultural ideal?”

Let’s wrap up with a question about Binge Mode. You just finished your run on that podcast last month. When you look back on your work there, what are you going to remember the most?

I think the way people responded to Binge Mode was such a surprise. It was really the first regular podcast project I was involved with, and we started recording it literally the day after I moved out to L.A. We worked extremely hard on it.

When we started with the Game of Thrones season, there were already so many podcasts and places for discussion about Thrones, Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin stuff. So my philosophy was to take the content very seriously, to provide the best analysis we possibly could, and to really dive in, do the research, and hope for the best.

Everybody works really hard at the podcasts they make, so it was just so gratifying when it found an audience. I’ll look back at that show really fondly, and the fact that people found it and it became a part of their lives. It’s an incredible blessing.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jason Concepcion’s Takes on the World