Michael Rapaport is dying to know which of Candace Parker’s opponents overseas do not wear deodorant.
With Rapaport’s 8-year-old mutt, Weezy, lying at Parker’s feet during a recent taping of the “I Am Rapaport: Stereo Podcast,” Parker, the Los Angeles Sparks’ star forward, detailed one EuroLeague rivalry in which armed guards keep order, spit shields protect the benches and fans light coins on fire and toss them at the court.
Rapaport, a career actor, basketball junkie and, now, fidgeting interviewer, rephrases his question: Who smells the worst? It’s the kind of “snapping” — a raw form of comedic trash talk that he grew up with in predominantly black neighborhoods in New York — that he has known, used and laced with curse words to become a breakout radio and podcast guest in recent years for the likes of Howard Stern and Bill Simmons.
Not a week goes by when Rapaport’s takes aren’t in your face. To him, he’s keeping it real and honest; to others, he’s downright offensive. Kanye West is a “cuckoo’s nest.” Fox News’s Laura Ingraham is a “volatile, pandering, obvious racist.” Kenya Moore of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” has “ashy” feet.
When people online said they wished Janet Jackson, not Justin Timberlake, had appeared during the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, he openly wondered about the last time Jackson put out a hit single, much to the dismay of her fans.
“Why can’t I say anything?” he said. “She knows me; she doesn’t know you. I’m a fan.”
For a couple of years, writers from The Root, a website focusing on black culture, have tangled with Rapaport, who was described recently by the site as “the worst kind of white man.” Rapaport said the site’s writers are “race hustlers” who are “slinging race” as if they were “slinging crack” and won’t go on his podcast to talk to him.
Danielle Belton, The Root’s editor in chief, said that the adversarial relationship between the site and Rapaport isn’t about him but about what he says and stands for.
“When he talks about race, he seems to be shortsighted and not empathetic to the plight of African-Americans,” she said, adding that she thinks he’s trying to get attention through lewd and sexist comments. “If we stopped writing about him, I think he’d be offended, because he needs something to complain about.”
In the saturated field of sports podcasting, Rapaport, 48, has orchestrated something of an unexpected success with “I Am Rapaport,” a show built on unfiltered emotional responses and a “no fact-checking” mantra in pursuit of the best sports and culture trash talk on the internet. Ranked as one of the top sports and recreation podcasts by Podbay, the four-year-old show is averaging one and a half million to two million monthly downloads across multiple platforms, according to the show’s producers.
“When you have somebody who feels that comfortable and says what he feels,” Parker said of Rapaport, “it allows you to open up and say what you feel. In this generation, people know what’s real and what’s not — and he’s been real for a while.”
Today, there’s a good chance that a solid chunk of the show’s audience knows Rapaport more for his insight on the greatness of Kevin Durant and the shortcomings of his beloved Knicks, or how he verbally spars with Moore from “Real Housewives,” than for his work in more than 60 films or his current role on the Netflix show “Atypical.”
“It’s art, and it’s a performance,” Rapaport said. “I’m not trying to polish myself or make myself look smarter than what I am. I want you to hear the genuine truth of what I think or feel, whether I’m incorrect or correct.”
It’s a career transition Rapaport is comfortable with after his guest spots on other people’s shows made him realize there might be a market for his intense, hourlong conversations with his friend Gerald Moody, which regularly leave him exhausted and with a hacking cough.
Bill Burr, a comedian, knows Rapaport’s brand of chatter all too well.
“This is a guy who loves his teams and knows the game,” said Burr, the host of “Monday Morning Podcast” and a noted Boston sports fan. But, he continued, “there’s also this part where you’re laughing at him because a lot of times his passion and desire for his teams to win” make him say crazy things that make no sense.
“When I watch him go off on LeBron James, I’m like, he’s 6-foot-8 and if he wanted to, he could find you,” Burr added. “He talks about guys like LeBron the way he talks about me, and I’m barely 5-foot-10 and not built like an Adonis.”
By the time Rapaport’s podcast launched in August 2014, its producers, Miles Davis and Jordan Winter, said they knew there was a chance for him to convert his runs on radio shows and podcasts into something different from the work of other sports personalities.
“We knew right away Michael had that energy and that kind of polarizing personality, and that he was going to be the perfect person to start this with,” Davis said.
Winter added, “He’s been around for 25 years and everyone knows him for something different, but you know he’s Michael Rapaport.”
Rapaport has been at the center of trouble since he was growing up in the ’70s, catching punts from his father at his local park and watching “Happy Days.” He was kicked out of third grade at P.S. 158 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and had part of his left ear bitten off in a fight when he was around 18.
“My mother always says, ‘This is just the way you are,’ ” he said. “I think certain kids come out with certain energies, and I had that. My parents were very patient and probably let me get away with too much.”
Rapaport’s brand of disses and diatribes has not been solely for athletes or celebrities. In fact, a few of his most stinging commentaries have been reserved for some of the more prominent names in sports media. In October, he publicly ripped Simmons, creator of The Ringer, a sports and pop culture website, for not responding to his requests to help promote his book, “This Book Has Balls.”
“I don’t take anything back, but I want to mend the fence with him,” Rapaport said. (The Ringer declined to comment.)
In February, Rapaport had his most acrimonious beef yet, with Barstool Sports, his former employer, and its president, Dave Portnoy.
“It’s tough to work with somebody who doesn’t seem to be a rational human being,” Portnoy said.
Rapaport and his podcast’s staff explained in a February episode — after he was fired — that although he was hesitant to partner with Barstool because of outcries that the site was openly misogynistic, teaming up still made sense considering Barstool’s financial stability.
That didn’t last long. The eight-month partnership ended with a nasty split in February followed by mudslinging.
Barstool resurfaced harassment charges against the actor from 1997. Rapaport pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment but faced no jail time for calling an ex-girlfriend nearly two dozen times over four days. He said the situation was “a learning experience,” but that it was also a period he regrets, especially when he had to tell his sons, Julian, 18, and Maceo, 16 — both from his first marriage, to the television producer and writer Nichole Beattie. Rapaport has been married to the actress Kebe Dunn since 2016.
The split from Barstool provided, if nothing else, more fodder for Rapaport’s podcast. At the show’s core is the 36-year bond between Rapaport and Moody, his co-host, that started when they were 13 on the basketball courts at the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club.
“People who are New Yorkers hit me up from around the world to say that the show is so New York that it transports them back home to where they’re talking on a stoop with their friends,” said Moody, 49, who is also a landlord in the Bronx. “We bring New York to you.”
Rapaport can only laugh at the attention he has gotten during the early part of this career transition, knowing he may be stepping on toes but not necessarily caring about the blowback. “The messiness you see around me in the sports world comes from people getting jealous, wondering, ‘What is this actor doing?’ ” Rapaport said. “It is what it is. I don’t back down.”
But for all the grief he has given James over the years, Rapaport admits that the new Los Angeles Laker — “He’s got voodoo going!” Rapaport said — is the one person who has been able to shut him up recently, with a string of dominant performances last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Don’t expect him to shut up for long.
“My mouth gets me in trouble, and it’s a comfort zone, to be honest,” he said. “I’m used to stirring the pot.”
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