At the dawn of the 1980s, the world was moving faster, the media was growing bigger, and greed was finally good. For the NBA, it was a chance to finally step into the spotlight. But all that wealth and stardom came at a deep cost. This is the story of how basketball reflected a moment when Reagan’s America doubled down on some of its core values: selfishness, violence, and racism -- and the players who paid the price. Hosted by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice, Succession) and produced by HyperObject Industries and Three Uncanny Four Death at the Wing is part of The Binge - a new channel on apple podcasts. Subscribe to The Binge to unlock all episodes of this show, ad-free, right now. Your subscription also unlocks the entire network of podcasts on The Binge with a brand new story dropping every month - that’s all episodes, all at once, all ad-free. Click ‘try free’ at the top of the Death at the Wing show page on Apple Podcasts to start your free trial or visit GetTheBinge.com to get access wherever you get your podcasts.
1. The Invisible Revolution
In the late 70s, basketball was changing rapidly, as was the country. The ABA, a start-up basketball league showcased a faster style of play that captivates fans and introduced a 3-point line to professional basketball. But it was struggling financially. The NBA was just the opposite -- gaining a foothold but lacking that “cool” factor. After a merger, and the rise of satellite TV, everything came together -- Dr. J, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s highlights reached fans across the country. Cable and satellite TV would showcase a revolution in the rest of America as well -- and no politician was better equipped for the moment than the movie-star-turned-president, Ronald Reagan. A new era of superstardom and fast living was on the horizon -- one that would also leave many behind.
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Death At The Wing is hosted by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice, Succession) and produced by HyperObject Industries and Three Uncanny Four. Jody Avirgan, executive producer and editor, Raghu Manavalan, senior producer, Brian Steele, producer.
Want to listen to the rest of the season? Subscribe to The Binge to unlock all episodes of this show, ad-free, right now.
Your subscription also unlocks the entire network of podcasts on The Binge with a brand new story dropping every month - that’s all episodes, all at once, all ad-free.
Click ‘try free’ at the top of the Death at the Wing show page on Apple Podcasts to start your free trial or visit GetTheBinge.com to get access wherever you get your podcasts.
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2. Terry Furlow and the Crash After The Party
Flint native Terry Furlow, a Michigan State legend, was a mentor to Magic Johnson, and was primed to make it in the new run-and-gun NBA. But Furlow struggled to adjust to the league, and bounced around from team to team, just at the same moment that a party culture was taking over the NBA and the country. Stories of rampant cocaine use plague the league, and what was once a fun party drug reveals a darker side. In the end, the league and the country decide to react not by supporting their own, but by framing drug use as a personal failing through three simple words: “Just Say No.”
3. Len Bias and the Crack Panic
A cocaine overdose claims the life of collegiate superstar and ‘can’t miss prospect’ Len Bias before he ever plays in the NBA for the Boston Celtics. This causes a moral and political panic. Weeks after his death, the Reagan administration, with overwhelming Democratic support, passes the "Len Bias Law," installing mandatory minimum sentences and a system that prioritizes incarceration over rehabilitation. As one writer put it, Len Bias became the “Archduke Ferdinand of the total War on Drugs.”
4. Benji Wilson and Chicago’s Flood of Guns
The ‘next Magic Johnson’ gets murdered after an argument outside a Chicago High School. Chicago residents had been scapegoated by politicians and cut off from social services for decades, leaving a vacuum for a flood of guns and violence in the 1980s. Benji’s death was a product of that neglect, but his legacy may provide a path to hope.
5. Ricky Berry and the Pressures of Fame
A shooting guard considered 'Reggie Miller with a handle' commits suicide, at a time when the country is ill-equipped to talk about mental health.
6. Drazen Petrovic and Basketball’s Cold War
Thanks to the 1992 “Dream Team,” basketball becomes a truly global brand. Overseas stars begin to make it in the United States, the land of opportunity, even as US foreign policy leads many parts of the world to fracture.
Doc style was terrific !
Great interweaving of politics, culture, social justice issues and sports history. Excellent research and loved the BBC format, kept it super interesting to someone who isn’t a huge follower of the NBA, but loves sports history! How about doing something on the History of womens pro bb, and how that intertwines with gender, race, politics and capitalism? Can look at the ABL that was started by the players and an ex Olympian pre WNBA, leading into the Griner situation now and the need for women pro players to play abroad! Overall I highly recommend this podcast.
A must for any hoops fan. I was a junior in college when Len Bias died. Went to basketball camp with Keith Gatlin, Bias’ PG at Maryland. It as like the world stopped. Ben Wilson’s death was also a shocker. Well researched and high production value. I hope there are plans for more episodes. Also, please consider doing something on college basketball. Lots of stories to be told and a lot of dirt to be dished. I applaud your excellent work! Keep it coming so I don’t have to cancel my subscription!
Bunch of left wing wackos;; hosting
Left wing wackos blame everything on everybody else ,drug use ,gun use ,welfare user’s !baby killers ;it’s everybody else’s fault! Chicago killings 30-60 every weekend, Obama did nothing ,President Biden does nothing!