How ‘the Starters’ Rebounded With a Hit NBA Podcast After TV Show Loss

  • No Dunks is an NBA podcast from the creators of The Basketball Jones and The Starters.
  • In 2019, after their NBA TV show contract expired, the creators signed with The Athletic.
  • You now have one of The Athletic’s top podcasts, consistently hitting 1 million downloads per month.

The creators of The Starters went from taping a basketball podcast in their producer’s Toronto garage to being a daily telecast on NBA TV in the 2010s.

But her television fame has been fickle. In 2019, NBA TV opted not to renew the show’s contract, co-host Trey Kerby told Insider. And copyright issues prevented the creators from using the name “The Starters,” which had made them a mainstay in NBA media.

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Fast forward to 2022, and the group who now host the No Dunks podcast are back where they started nearly two decades ago: recording from Jason Doyle’s garage. Doyle produces the show for its four hosts: Tas Melas and JE Skeets, who were the original voices of the podcast when it was still known as The Basketball Jones; Kerby who joined the team in 2010 and Leigh Ellis who joined in 2011.

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The quintet is a far cry from the 20-strong team and television studio that Turner Sports’ NBA TV has provided during its six-year association with the network. But “No Dunks” continues to thrive – fueled by a loyal fan base that follows them from garage to garage – and is now a model podcast in The Athletic’s audio department.

How The Starters became The Free Agents

“The Starters” got off to a rocky start on NBA television in 2013 when they struggled to translate their hour-long podcast to television.

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The group found their step in season two, shortening the program and embracing the whimsicality and belonging that came with being NBA fans themselves.

“We’re not trying to do this stuffy ‘boring’ kind of reactionary sports show,” Skeets said. “We just had to stay the course of being ‘weird,’ or at least being comfortable in our own skin, and it took a little while to get there.”

The starters dressed up as Las Vegas showgirls

“The Starters” dress in Las Vegas showgirl outfits during a show.

No dunks

The show’s original 2013 NBA-TV contract ran for two years, with an option for a one-year extension. Turner renewed the show for that extra year and then signed another three-year deal with the group that would keep them on NBA television through the summer of 2019.

But in 2018, AT&T bought Turner Sports’ parent company, Time Warner Inc. Melas believes the AT&T deal was the catalyst behind the show’s cancellation.

“AT&T came in and made a purchase and the money had to be cut somewhere,” Melas said. “I will always think it was a financial decision and not what we did.”

Turner Sports declined Insider’s request for comment.

The starters pose with Vince Carter

The Starters pose with NBA legend Vince Carter displaying their wares.

The hosts of The Starters pose with NBA legend Vince Carter

While the group wanted to stay with Turner, they knew the reality of the media business. Ellis said he also witnessed top talent come in and out of the spotlight during the group’s time at Canadian sports media brand theScore before NBA TV.

“It’s a volatile industry,” Ellis said.

Later in 2019, the group began podcasting under the name “The Free Agents”. That moniker only lasted seven episodes before they found a new home as one of the pioneers of The Athletic’s burgeoning podcast division.

How ‘No Dunks’ has evolved in its new home

According to creators’ agent Matt Olson, the podcast The Free Agents had several admirers when it launched in June 2019. Bidders included DAZN, Cadence13, SiriusXM and Westwood One, but the group eventually signed with The Athletic in the fall.

“The Athletic really appreciated it, they wanted to make it their flagship NBA podcast, and the amount of NBA coverage The Athletic already had made it the best choice,” Olson wrote in an email to Insider .

Since its inception in 2016, The Athletic had established itself as a top portal for sports media. But it was still in the early stages of building an audio division and jumped at the opportunity to sign on a veteran group to pioneer the NBA side of its podcast division.

“It was really an attempt to streamline the production of shows that are both informative to a sports fan and entertaining,” said Andrew Wasserman, head of audio at The Athletic. “It’s very difficult to find a better example of a group of guys who have found that balance than ‘No Dunks’.”

The Athletic signed the creators to a two-year deal with a one-year extension, as did Turner.

While the podcasters don’t attend NBA events as frequently as they did with Turner, they’re earning more than before. Olson said The Athletic pays the podcasters higher base salaries for “No Dunks” than they received from “The Starters” at Turner.

In turn, “No Dunks” regularly tops the podcast charts. Wasserman said the show is The Athletic’s biggest NBA podcast and one of the highest-rated out of 77 podcasts. He said that “No Dunks” consistently breaks a million downloads every month.

According to Chartable, “No Dunks” is in the top 20 basketball podcasts in the US and is firmly in the top 5 in countries like Canada, Australia and the Philippines.

The show’s success has given its creators some autonomy at The Athletic. They’ve branched out with podcasts, including the Formula 1 show No Brakes, the baseball podcast No Bunts, and No Buffs, which is about the reality show Survivor.

These are low-cost, energy-saving experiments that could hit and also give the “No Dunks” crowd some respite from just talking about the NBA.

“Giving them other creative options makes their NBA content even better and keeps it fresher, more engaging, and more fun because they’re having more fun with it,” Wasserman said.

The Athletic’s original deal for “No Dunks” only licensed the show’s audio. But “No Dunks” can also be found on other platforms, including YouTube, where it has more than 50,000 subscribers. The Athletic licensed the video portion of the show when it signed a second deal with the creators last year, Doyle said.

No Dunks is now signed with The Athletic until 2025, a timeline that would match the group’s time at Turner.

As part of the deal, San Francisco-based The Athletic helped fund a new studio for No Dunks in producer Doyle’s Atlanta garage, where the five creators have worked since their Turner days.

No Dunks studio called "The classic factory"

No Dunks has a new studio in Doyle’s garage called The Classic Factory.

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They chose to record in Doyle’s garage to commemorate the place where it all began, as the hosts live nearby.

While the creators’ cheerful personalities have garnered a loyal following over 16 years — hardcore fans have even gotten tattoos of the group, Wasserman said — it’s that practicality and work ethic that has “No Dunks” more firmly established and secure in Doyle’s garage than ever brought back before.

“We use the washroom in his house,” Skeets joked. “It is our washroom,” said Doyle.

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