It was close to midnight on a warm night in June, and Kendrick “Perk” Perkins had a confession to make. He was recording an episode of The Old Man and the Three, the wildly popular podcast hosted by JJ Redick, the retired NBA player, and Tommy Alter, a TV producer.
Perkins used to be a center for the Boston Celtics, and, at 6’10” and upwards of 300 pounds, he makes the 6’4” Redick look petite. Perkins, Redick, and Alter (who, at 5’11”, would look regular-size, if not tall, in virtually any other context) are seated in Alter’s living room in Dumbo, sipping on glasses of a 2008 Chambertin grand cru that runs nearly $4,000 a bottle. After they finish recording the podcast, Redick, a wine aficionado, tells me it was just okay, nothing special.
Right before the podcast recording, Perkins had been at the Barclays Center, rehearsing for the live 2022 NBA draft, which would air the following evening on ESPN, where he and Redick are both analysts. Donning a full suit and tie, he looked ready for prime time. Redick was dressed down in a backwards Old Man and the Three cap, gray skinny jeans, and a white tee, revealing his bevy of Christian tattoos. His left arm features a sleeve of the four authors of the Gospels: Matthew, winged and haloed, and below that, Mark, Luke, and John, in the form of various flying animals.
Perkins gets on with his confession: Way back in 2008, when his Boston Celtics were playing LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, “I was like, Let us get breaking news that LeBron has tore his ACL or something,” Perkins says, pantomiming shame. “I did, bro. Like, I’m not even lying. I’m not even exaggerating.”
Redick looks at Kylee Kilgore, the COO of his production company with Alter, ThreeFourTwo, who is sitting off to the side. “We have to edit this out,” Redick says. Kilgore happens to be the twin sister of Redick’s wife, Chelsea, as well as Redick’s own best friend.
“No! You can’t edit this out,” Perkins protests. “This is real! That’s how terrified I was of LeBron.”
When the podcast drops days later, the anecdote stays in, and gets picked up around the sports world. This sort of moment, after all, is why listeners like The Old Man and the Three. It’s not everyday that you hear a professional athlete talk about how he was so thirsty for a championship ring, and under so much insane pressure, that he asked God to cripple his opponent. But Redick, who started podcasting in 2016 and retired from the NBA after the 2020–2021 season, is a gifted interviewer, able to coax his podcast guests, mostly former and current NBA players, into opening up. Sometimes too much—Redick was concerned about the backlash Perkins might receive for his audacious confession, which is why his initial impulse was to cut it.
“Because I’m a peer, because we share a lot of the same experiences, there’s an inherent respect level,” Redick tells me a few days later, over lunch at Nene’s Deli Taqueria in Bushwick. “I’m able to ask questions that, if a reporter were to ask that, or if traditional media were to ask that, I don’t think you’d get the same response. That’s the advantage of our show.”
Being a professional athlete is deeply unrelatable: you’re inconceivably rich, inconceivably recognizable, and you possess an inconceivable physical agility. But when Redick talks to other athletes, he humanizes them. His podcast paints a compelling portrait of the emotional cost of spending half your year traveling, away from your family, the pressures of the spotlight, the relentless drive you need to truly master your craft.
Redick arrives at Nene’s fresh off of an ESPN hit, wearing a tailored navy suit, aviator sunglasses hanging from his shirt, his hair slightly gray and duly styled. He never talks with his mouth full or dribbles juices and salsa down his immaculate getup. He takes a picture with one fan, says hi to the family of another on FaceTime. And he shares a warm familiarity with the restaurant staff. It’s hard not to think, Wow, everyone freakin’ loves this guy.