Longtime basketball reporter Brian Windhorst is the subject of a profile in the New York Times today, in which he candidly talks about his career and his desire to be known as more than just the guy who has spent it following LeBron James around. He also brags about a time when he refused to report true and interesting information.
Last year, Windhorst and ESPN colleague Dave McMenamin broke a story about Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith throwing a bowl of soup at an assistant coach. You may remember that in the aftermath of this story breaking everyone wanted to know what kind of soup Smith had thrown, because the incident was insane and hilarious and people wanted to know as much about it as they possibly could. Here’s Windhorst now, a guy who gets paid handsomely to report on the NBA, bragging to the Times about how he withheld the information that his readers wanted:
“I knew instantly that it was chicken tortilla,” Windhorst said. Frustrated that ESPN’s news desk paid more attention to the type of soup than to the dozens of articles he had previously filed, he refused to report the detail. “It was sort of like my silent protest,” he said.
This isn’t out of step for Windhorst, who has something of a habit of proudly and publicly touting his ability to withhold information. Last month he went on Bill Simmons’s podcast and revealed that despite having a solid source telling him that LeBron James was going to sign with the Lakers, he did not report that James was going to sign with the Lakers. Instead, he went on Zach Lowe’s podcast and said that there was a 51 percent chance that James was going to L.A. Here’s how he explained the way that all played out to Simmons:
The night of the draft, as I was walking out of the studio where I’d done some TV at Seaport Studios in New York, I got a phone call from somebody who gave me the best information that I’ve gotten on LeBron free agency in June in my career, and the next day I did the Zach Lowe podcast and said 51 percent, but in my head I was at 91 percent.
Windhorst told basically the same story in an interview he did with the Huffington Post last summer.
A reporter possessing information that he or she cannot report is nothing new, either because the information isn’t solid or wasn’t given on the record or isn’t newsworthy enough to go through the hassle of getting it published. These sorts of scenarios are no great scandal. What’s different about the information that Windhorst has proudly kept in his pocket is that it is solid, and it is worth doing the extra work to get into the world. He says so himself—he “instantly knew” what kind of soup J.R. Smith threw, and his tip about James was “the best information” he’d gotten about LeBron’s free agency in his entire career. These were both things that NBA fans, the people that Windhorst ultimately serves, desperately wanted to know, and Windhorst was in the position—perhaps a singular position!—to relay that information to those fans.
So why didn’t he? On both Simmons’s podcast and in the Huffington Post interview, Windhorst explains that it’s not reticence that holds him back, but the dreaded aggregators who might take him out of context and get him in hot water with teams and players. Here’s what he said to Simmons:
Because that’s life. That’s where we are in the world today. Because aggregation, because stuff like that, because something I’ve said this last hour will get taken out of context, and I’ll end up getting a call sometime over the weekend from some team, or an email or a text, and they’ll be angry about it. And frankly, I just didn’t feel like dealing with it.
Windhorst has ongoing beef with news sites that aggregate his reports, and it’s often hard to figure out exactly what his grievance is based on. At one point last summer Windhorst reported that James and his inner circle were in their “Decision Cave” making their final choice about where LeBron would play this season. That report got aggregated far and wide, in part because “Decision Cave” was a fun thing to put in a headline, which made Windhorst angry because he apparently thought people were taking his report to mean that LeBron and his pals were in a literal cave:
That doesn’t make any goddamn sense, but Windhorst explained further in his Huffington Post interview, and he ended up circling back to the same grievance he brought up with Simmons: the problem with the “Decision Cave” report spreading across the internet was that it made LeBron and his friends mad at Windhorst:
It really pissed LeBron’s guys off. I just said that “The Decision Cave” ― I mean it wasn’t a joke, it was true, and it was what they called it. But it seemed like I was trying to like, you know — “I have this inside information. My sources tell me” ― and I was just sort of answering a question from [ESPN commentator] Stephen A. [Smith]. And so, it really pissed those dudes off.
It’s hard to think of two worse reasons for being shy about reporting information than 1) finding the way that information spreads online to be personally annoying and 2) being afraid that the spreading of that information will get you in trouble with the people you are supposed to be reporting on. It’s certainly nothing to brag about.
Windhorst has enjoyed a long and lucrative career as one of the most well-respected NBA reporters in the business, and if he’s reached the point where he wants to leave behind a lot of the reporting work that helped get him to this position and be known more as an analyst and TV personality, nobody can blame him for that. But it’s strange to see him repeatedly bring up all the ways in which he is refusing to do that reporting work, particularly while he is paid by a company that recently laid off scores of hardworking reporters who would probably be more than happy to trade places with Windhorst and do the work he finds to be such a hassle. Everyone has things they don’t like about their job and tasks they often don’t do out of sheer dissatisfaction, but most people manage to keep their “silent protests” silent.