LOS ANGELES – When Skip Bayless was finalizing his move from ESPN to Fox Sports 1 in 2016, he had one name at the top of his list for who he wanted across the desk from him when his new debate show, Undisputed, launched: Shannon Sharpe.
Bayless was insistent that Fox should pair him with Sharpe, which on the surface seemed like a bit of a curious choice. The Hall of Fame tight end had spent a decade in sports media as an analyst for The NFL Today on CBS from 2004-2014, but he had limited experience working on a show that discussed more than just football and would ask him to offer his opinions, rather than analysis.
The reason Sharpe topped Bayless’ list was because that limited experience was across the desk from Bayless on First Take, where Sharpe had been an occasional fill-in for Stephen A. Smith, and it only took two weeks of shows for Bayless to know Sharpe was more than game as an opponent in Bayless’ preferred debate format and was much more than just a football guy.
“Fortunately, as we were conceiving the idea for the show, I was still on the other show, but knew I was L.A. bound and Shannon had sat in for Stephen A. Smith a number of times,” Bayless says. “In fact, we had one more big week with him on there, and I think maybe totaled 10 shows. You get a pretty good feel for a man’s range and rhythm and sort of durability under fire if you do 10 shows. And what impressed me the most about Shannon at ESPN on First Take was how hard he prepared and how well he knew the NBA. Because I’m now convinced he’s even more passionate about the NBA than he is the NFL. Who knew?”
Bayless felt like he had a rare gift in Sharpe, and one he could help build a show around.
“Now I have the best of worlds,” Bayless says, “because I obviously have a pro football Hall of Famer, who knows a thing or two about the NFL, and he spills over with NBA background knowledge and current knowledge, and would just as soon go at it over LeBron and Russell Westbrook as he would Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. This is, so to speak, if I can combine one more metaphor, a home-run for our show for the pro football Hall of Famer to prefer to talk about the NBA.”
Sharpe’s love of the NBA and, specifically, LeBron James has been a huge part of giving the show a strong dynamic because Bayless is one of the foremost LeBron haters on the planet. Sharpe will happily tell you LeBron is the greatest of all time, surpassing Michael Jordan, much to the dismay of Bayless, but it’s that conviction in his opinions on more than just football that makes the show work.