Bomani Jones will admit that, in his previous job as a commentator across ESPN’s various platforms, he sometimes just rolled out of bed and started his day. “Before, I would just get on the radio, you hit a switch, give me 10 minutes, and I just go off the top of my head and give it to you,” he says. But things have clearly changed, as we sit atop a swanky building overlooking the Hudson in his new corner office, listening to the smooth jazz sounds of keyboardist Bob James while morning creeps to the afternoon. Today, Bomani is gearing up for the release of Game Theory, a new HBO late night talk show, and his first ever solo show. For the first time in a long time, he’s feeling pressure. And the trappings around him are constant reminders of evolution in his life: how his assistant places fresh fruit on his desk in the mornings; his bracingly early call-times for hair and makeup; the men on the street who stop him when he’s outside recording skits.
Haven’t you heard? Bomani is big time now. Freed from the corporate prison of ESPN, Bomani has blossomed into something new entirely. He’s no longer just the smart podcaster, the adept TV man, the most insightful sports commentator on television. Now, he’s something bigger than he ever imagined.
It’s a lot of change, but in his mind, it’s worth it, simply because the new product is that good. “This hasn’t been compromised,” he says. “There’s certain – and I don’t know if ‘concessions’ is the right word – but there’s some things you have to do based on the formats that you’re in. Every show has a different purpose to it. People ask me what’s gonna be different about this show than what’s on ESPN?”
That’s a fair question, I say. He shoots me a glance and raises his eyebrows. What? It is!
“Well,” he says, very matter of factly. “ESPN doesn’t make shows like this.”
It isn’t bluster when Bomani says that Game Theory, which HBO picked up for a six-episode run, is something different. That’s because Game Theory is a collection of a few things. It’s got late-night monologues mixed with skits, and commentary mixed with guest appearances (Bomani’s already tapped, Stephen A. Smith, Dawn Staley, and Roy Wood Jr. to stop by). Bomani starts at a desk like he’s a lead man for Outside The Lines before he gets into his material that ranges from jovial barbershop talk to serious topics around economics or racism in athletics, all of which makes for a thirty-minute journey through the mind of one of sports television’s most unique brains.
Some of the act sounds the same, sure: hatin’ on Coach K because all of his uber-white teams crushed our beloved Black ones; skits asking why we let hockey players openly fight for entertainment (“We gonna talk about these white folks like animals like they talk about us,” he cracks), or poking fun at how Ben Simmons’ first comments to the New York press after being traded from Philadelphia sounded like a secret Drake album, so loaded were they with moody subtext. He’s certainly gonna play the hits. The main difference is that it’s his brainchild, a show made in his image and singularly from his imagination. Bomani’s not jockeying for position on a stage with talent he never felt was at his level. On HBO, he’s the center of attention—the sole star with something to say.