It can seem like everyone has a podcast these days, but a new series from former NBA player Etan Thomas has been a long time coming — it taps into a concept that got lodged in his brain back during a decade-long NBA career that ended in 2011.
“A lot of the time, people think they know athletes, but they don’t really know them,” Thomas explains. “Or maybe people know one part of them, but not who they really are. Sometimes the media gets it wrong. I’ve wanted to give them a chance to retell their stories — a rematch, so to speak.”
Enter The Rematch, a podcast Thomas launched this month through The Players’ Tribune. The series is the latest endeavor for a baller whose interests have long gone beyond the court — he’s a poet, writer, and activist as well. But it’s a project that hits close to home after a decade inside the celebrity fishbowl that is pro sports in America.
“It’s a tough thing to have everyone believe something about you that isn’t true,” Thomas says.
That’s why his list of guests is full of athletes who push back at the popular imagination of who they are, or what sports stars as a whole are like.
In one episode, former WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw opened up about her long battle with depression. In another, former NBA star Kenny Anderson discussed the internal pain and suffering he was forced to bury as a teenage hoops prodigy. Then there’s former Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, characterized in the popular imagination as one of the biggest jerks to ever hit the court.
“He was always the player everyone loved to hate,” Thomas says. “But then I met him a couple times at charity events and he was the nicest guy. I was like, ‘Oh wait, this cat’s a family man.’ I hadn’t seen or heard about that part of him anywhere before.”
So Thomas had Laimbeer on The Rematch, where they discussed basketball and life.
That baseline idea — athletes telling their own stories — is what The Players’ Tribune was founded on when New York Yankees star Derek Jeter launched the site days after retiring from the team in 2012. But Thomas plans to keep focusing exclusively on players who buck preconceived notions about the humans behind the highlights — and he hopes their stories will help inspire others.
“Take Chamique Holdsclaw talking about mental health,” he explains. “From that conversation, we’ve had other athletes and fans express that hearing her has given them courage to come forward about their own mental health and not try to hide it.”