Grant Napear was the Sacramento Kings’ play-by-play announcer for my entire life, and I have probably spent more time listening to him than any other person on television. With an organization as inherently chaotic as the Kings, that sort of stability is impressive. But when they went to the NBA bubble for eight remarkably inconsequential games this summer, they did so without Napear, who lost his gig over a bad tweet that felt more like the final straw.
The circumstances that led to the broadcaster’s firing and resignation earlier this year say a good deal about his personality as well as his standing with former Kings players. When DeMarcus Cousins, unprompted, asked the broadcaster in May about Black Lives Matter, Napear couldn’t help but show his ass.
Immediately after Cousins successfully baited Napear, Kings legend Chris Webber and Sacramento native Matt Barnes—who has long disliked Napear—both joined in, calling the announcer a clown and a “closet racist” respectively.
Napear had spent more than half his life working as the Kings’ play-by-play announcer, calling games for 32 of the team’s 35 seasons in California’s capital, from his 20s into his 60s. He also hosted a show on a local radio station, until he was fired on June 2, with the radio station’s parent company noting that the “timing of Grant’s tweet was particularly insensitive.” He resigned from his post with the Kings later that day.
Napear had actually mellowed into a very good play-by-play guy by the end of his term, though he always had bouts of buffoonery endemic to the sports radio crank world. This strange anecdote from 2010 involving him and Tyreke Evans has always stuck with me, and he was unlistenable throughout the entire Cousins era. Plenty of former Kings players have voiced their displeasure through the years as Napear’s put his foot in his mouth, like when he said former Clippers owner Donald Sterling couldn’t be racist since Sterling had hired Elgin Baylor and Doc Rivers. Sparks star Chiney Ogwumike was right on the money when she discussed the Napear fiasco in June.
After the incriminating tweet, Napear apologized, declared he had “more black friends than white,” and said he had no idea that responding with “All lives matter” to a question about Black Lives Matter “was counter to what BLM was trying to get across.” Napear stayed quiet and mostly out of the public eye until this week, when he announced his return to broadcasting with a new podcast, If You Don’t Like That. He got into the circumstances of his departure from the Kings and revealed that while he’s learned a whole new vocabulary (“I didn’t even know what the term ‘woke’ meant back on May 31”), he has not turned any sort of corner.
“You know what the biggest issue in this country is?” Napear asks in the first episode. “The fact that we are not allowed to have a conversation about this anymore. When are we gonna be able to have a conversation without someone being fired or destroyed, whatever the case may be.”
That Napear perceives this as the biggest issue in the country, and also believes he’s trying to have a conversation instead of showing up late to one that already exists, gives a useful assessment of how much he’s learned since June. This transcribed portion from his show gets to the heart of Napear’s grievance, that he was the victim of a snap judgment and that nobody took the time to really get to know him:
What the black community is fighting for, I don’t think that’s debatable. There is a problem in America, let’s just come to terms and agree that that is what life is like for many, many blacks in America. […] Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals, “Our first step must be to listen to one another. To sincerely lean in and hear what the person who is different from us is saying.” But after you are listening, is it asking too much for the person that is listening to ask questions and give their own opinions? Is that asking too much? I don’t think so. […]
Do you know what one of the biggest problems facing this country is, with the cancel culture? […] When you make a comment, how about peeling back the layers instead of just canceling somebody? How about spending five minutes and examine someone’s life?
Let’s take Grant Napear on his own terms here. He has given his opinions, now that he once again has a platform, and he has been on Kings fans’ screens and airwaves for longer than I’ve been alive. I’ve spent enough time listening to him to have a good sense of who he is. With this established, Napear is arguing that he was unfairly ejected from his job with the team because nobody took the time to know him or, with the most charitable possible reading of his words, gave him the space to do the work.
Within Napear’s podcast, there are rants about cancel culture, how TV ratings show how sports are dying because of politics, the erosion of discourse, and how “the mental health of our nation” has deteriorated because of social media, but there is no sense that he really has changed or learned anything. His firing was not, as he framed it, an issue of someone being persecuted; it was about someone refusing to listen. Rather than dig into why he was wrong or do anything beyond orthogonally acknowledge the existence of racism, Napear threw a pity party. He is free to do so in his new purview as a podcast host, and not during Kings games, which will be slightly better for his absence.