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Dunker Cyclist Ninja Guy, With Jason Gay

Giannis Antetokounmpo driving for one of his many baskets in the decisive Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

It is hard to know, as a fan of American Ninja Warrior, when it is socially acceptable to announce yourself as an acolyte. The show is effectively sports-adjacent family programming, and very much in the genre of summer television programming that revolves around people attempting to do weird physical feats and getting robustly and lustily owned while doing so. It is, by a country mile and very much on purpose, the goofiest thing on television for the couple of months when it airs. I personally think it both rules and Is Actually Important, but that opinion is also not something I bring up at parties.

When fate and a past shared encounter between Drew and this week’s guest, the Wall Street Journal’s best-in-class sports columnist Jason Gay, opened an avenue to talk about American Ninja Warrior, I made sure to absolutely jackknife a tractor trailer across that avenue and then climb out of the cab hooting to beat the band. We did also talk about other sports things—the shockingly cool NBA Finals, the state of the art in cycling cheating, the pervasiveness of Hyperbole Creep in the broader Sports Conversation—but I only really feel compelled to warn listeners about my frequent point-of-order corrections on various American Ninja Warrior-related remarks in the front third of the episode.

The rest of the show had a notably higher percentage of actual sports stuff than usual, both because a bunch of sports things are actually happening right now and because Jason is an unusually fun person to talk sports with. There is also a little bit of sportswriting chat, which was probably inevitable given the high volume of sportswritering types on the podcast, but it was mostly about the ways in which the three of us have repeatedly screwed it up.

Fans of The Distraction’s signature Idiot Mode will be happy to hear that the back third of the podcast is full of the usual Funbag-related nonsense. After we spent some time talking and making jokes about things people actually care about, a good old-fashioned garbage fight came as something of a relief. We discussed the etiquette of unplugging other people’s phones while they’re charging, the sad character-in-advertisement-to-film/TV show pipeline, and the precise intellectual provenance of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. In that way, the episode mirrored the most satisfying of American Ninja Warrior runs: a sincere effort to do our best, and then a splash-heavy and retrospectively inevitable tumble into the drink once our grip on some thin ledge of coherence finally gives out.

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