ESPN screenshot

This may have been the zenith of televised sports debating.

Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo was asked to rank his top-5 sports cities on Wednesday’s edition of “ESPN First Take.” And, much to Stephen A. Smith’s umbrage, he rolled out one of the most ridiculous lists ever.

As pictured above, Russo has them ranked in order: Cleveland at No. 1, Detroit at No. 2, New York at No. 3, Chicago at No. 4 and Philadelphia at No. 5.

His cliff notes logic: Some anecdotal praise for Cleveland and Detroit, New York is too much of an “event town,” Chicago fans are a bit “soft” and Philly fans once didn’t show up for a 76ers playoff game 41 years ago.

Some thoughts …

Boston’s exclusion is criminal. No provincial bias here. Boston deserves to be on the list. In fact, it deserves to be No. 1. While there is certainly a frontrunner element to its sporting culture in the modern era, the fanbase is extremely knowledgeable and passionate. And we’d argue it offers intense support for all four major teams — Bruins, Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox — in a manner no other major city does.

Mad Dog is right about Chicago. There is a lackadaisical nature thanks in large part to the Cubs’ legacy of lovable losing at picturesque Wrigley Field. I don’t think I would necessarily bump them from the list, as Smith argued for, but it’s close.

Who cares about Game 7 of the 1981 Eastern Conference semifinals? Yes, that is Russo’s sticking point with Philadelphia. They only had about 7,000 fans show up for the Sixers’ elimination win over the Bucks. Come on. If you want to ding Philly, ding them because the support for the Eagles is disproportionate to every other team. If the Eagles were the only team, they’d be No. 1. But they also have the Flyers, Phillies and Sixers.

There is truth to the New York criticism. This is an event town (not that there is any shame in that). And we mostly ignore the hockey and basketball teams. It is similar to Philadelphia. If this was constricted solely to baseball passion, New York would have an argument for No. 1.

Cleveland and Detroit are good sports towns, but they shouldn’t get awards for supporting bad teams. Which is what is happening here. They belong in the mix, but there is no way they should run Nos. 1 and 2.

Who deserves consideration besides Boston? San Francisco (the Warriors are there now and they have more support than the Los Angeles teams), St. Louis (they were willing to build the Rams a stadium, remember) and maybe Washington. But for the most part, Russo has the right cities. The order is just horrible.

If we had to rank them … Boston at No. 1, New York and Philadelphia tied for No. 2, Chicago at No. 4 and Cleveland over Detroit at No. 5.

James Kratch can be reached at

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.