Retirement, today, looks a lot different for NBA players than it used to. Prior to the last several years or so, the end of one’s playing career was also the end of their real fame—unless they got a handful of prestigious media jobs, went into high-profile coaching, or were one of the true superstars of the game, who never really leave the mainstream. Everyone else got to blend back into the hoi polloi pretty quickly; people might just wonder if they played pro ball because they’re so damn tall.

Now, someone like Gilbert Arenas can extend his presence in the public eye indefinitely. Explosions in broadcast technology have made it so that his opinions and persona are well-known even to basketball fans who never saw him play, and have no real reason to have heard about his decade-long career, characterized by its few years of scoring genius, a stupidly wielded handgun, and a briefly hot rivalry with Mike Krzyzewski, who cut him from Team USA during the peak of his playing powers in 2006. Then, like a pile of players too large to detail, he started getting injured a lot, and he stopped being remembered.

But now he might be more known than ever. Arenas is the host of a podcast that, until November of last year, was aptly titled “No Chill.” In it, he delivers takes about basketball and the surrounding culture. Rarely does he lack for words or passion. The show was at first produced by Fubo TV, until Arenas left them for a betting concern called Underdog Fantasy, and retitled the basically identical show “Gil’s Arena.” By the end of 2024, it could certainly be called something else, and happening under the roof of a different neo-media company. The important thing, to most people who know about this stuff—and a lot do; most of his episodes reach millions—is that it’s on YouTube, Spotify, or whatever Silicon Valley medium works best for their devices.

And while the medium might not constitute the whole Arenas message, it’s at least a close cousin to it: a distinctly modern, novel informality is what listeners and viewers enjoy here. These dispatches show us up to six dudes, pretty much always wearing athleisure, sitting on a couch that encircles a table for their branded plastic cups to sit on. These cups do not need to hold alcohol, but a bottle of it will often be at least adjacent, to boost this uncanny new blend of naturalism and product placement.

Because of the way the world has become, we are now privy to wizened story times that would’ve previously been a members-only affair. That is how it’s supposed to feel, anyway. Sometimes it really does: on Jeff Teague’s podcast, he infamously discussed hip-checking LeBron James out of sheer pettiness and frustration, back in 2016. This was a moment of incredible humor and humanity, and part of why Teague, like Arenas, now has more notoriety as a raconteur in digital spaces than he ever did on the court. 

Most of the time, though, these ex-players are doing a shaggier version of what the rest of modern media does. In other words, they make up binaries to choose sides of, as a necessary pretense to speaking vigorously about largely unchanging subjects. Negativity is rewarded, especially if it’s extreme. In perhaps the most viral moment of his broadcasting career, Arenas proved this by suggesting that all European players should be banned from the league. His specious logic for this bold idea included the notion that European players have ruined defensive principles, even though plenty of them are and were significantly better defenders than Arenas was, including some who he personally played—and struggled—against.

It’s no crime to be loudly dubious, though—least of all in America, where it’s a great enough business model that half-retired multimillionaire athletes are increasingly finding it to be a golden parachute. They are hawking the same wares that more traditional shock jocks, for decades, have crafted on the backs of athletes; if media members can chisel wonky metaphors and shaky parables out of the exploits of star players and profit from them, then why can’t those very athletes do the same?

No one should have any problem with that—save for an understandable objection to The Nonsense Economy at large—but Arenas’ new rival in this evolving communications landscape does: Kwame Brown, whose own media project is an unsponsored YouTube channel. Spend one full minute listening to his monologues, and you’ll understand why advertisers aren’t flocking. Brown is mean, conspiratorial, and profane beyond the standard relaxed cussing fare of Arenas’ and Teague’s products. He is proud of his independence, however, as he will often remind you while he takes his crosshairs to other retired players’ podcasts.

Brown’s me-against-the-world shtick is incredibly entertaining, and all the more so when it collides with Arenas’ more gainful and corporate world, which is also populated by Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, co-hosts of the “All the Smoke" podcast. This one’s produced by an older media entity—Showtime—but resembles its more gambling-baron-floated contemporaries. Kwame hates all of these guys, and anyone else who’s gotten into bed with big media. He goes after them like a man on fire running past the king’s guards, screaming about their inauthenticity, weakness of spirit, and supposed race traitor behavior.

In private, though, it’s a different story. Arenas and Brown, according to Gilbert—on yet another player podcast, Patrick Beverley’s—text each other regularly, like teammates. Their flame wars are coordinated. This is all, to some extent, professional wrestling. And just like with that product, we don’t really care when it’s fake; even if the thing being faked is a heated accusation of fakery. Genuine or ironic, staged or real, insightful or not, It’s all a confounding new sauce to get delightfully lost in. A funhouse peek into the broader NBA fraternity. Many finished players will stay out of all this, and continue to live in tall anonymity, of course, but the option to be a professional vibesmith is larger than ever, and the blueprint for a post-playing career is forever changed.