Sorry Brian Windhorst, once you say ‘checkbook game,’ it’s no longer a compliment

ESPN voice confused by Bay Area radio hosts taking issue with that

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Brian Windhorst
Brian Windhorst
Photo: Getty Images

Brian Windhorst saying anything that even a handful of people don’t like is going to bring out the toxicity on social media. Pissing off one of the most annoying fan bases in sports makes it so toxic it’s nearly radioactive. So those of you who went where you know you shouldn’t have gone in criticizing Windhorst — you know who you are — I hope your moment of cruelty makes your life a little less sad.

However, what he said on SportsCenter after the Golden State Warriors 104-94 Game 5 win against the Boston Celtics did not come out right at all. It wasn’t that he jumbled his words, or mispronounced a name. He just used some strong words. What he tried to defend as complimentary started out that way and then turned into a dismissal.

“While the Warriors were down these last couple of years, winning no games, they kept spending money, because they’ve got it,” Windhorst said to ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. “They re-signed Draymond Green. They re-signed Steph Curry. They re-signed Kevon Looney. They kept Andrew Wiggins and boy did it show up tonight. Andrew Wiggins with the supreme moment in his career, he was a throw in, in a trade. Other teams would’ve totally gotten rid of him.”


So far, so good as it sounds like Windhorst is complimenting the Warriors on being loyal to their veteran players, and had faith in a player that many had quit on, and it paid off in a huge way, particularly in Game 5. Then Windhorst, while technically correct, still went a bit too far.

“They stuck with him. They have a $340 million payroll when you consider taxes,” Windhorst said. “You don’t just have to beat the Warriors on the court, you’ve gotta beat their checkbook. Nothing away from Andrew Wiggins tonight, but this was a checkbook win for the Warriors.”


Does Warriors owner Joe Lacob spend a lot of money on his basketball team? Certainly. The Warriors are a big-market team, but no one thought of them as one until he bought the team and has been willing to do whatever it takes to win. In 2018-19 they paid Steph Curry $37 million dollars, Kevin Durant $30 million, Klay Thompson almost $19 million, Draymond Green $17 million, and Andre Iguadola $16 million. This season Curry made nearly $46 million, Thompson just under $38 million, Andrew Wiggins $31.5 million, and Green $24 million.


It’s the type of spending that makes small-market MLB and NBA fans complain, but these leagues generate a great deal of revenue. To keep these talented players on the roster, as the late great Mike Hagerty once said, It’ll cost ya.

But “checkbook victory,” does discredit what happened. Most basketball fans and media types believe that the Celtics actually have the better roster. Not much has happened in these five games to be enough indisputable evidence to change that opinion. The Celtics are bigger and more versatile. The Warriors simply have stayed focused in crucial spots more often than their younger adversaries. Wily veterans, especially champions and No. 1 overall draft picks, cost money, but it’s not as if the Warriors bought their way to the NBA Finals this season — now in 2017…


Windorst went on the Bay Area airwaves on Wednesday morning to defend himself.

“I was giving the Warriors a compliment for being able to stick with spending through their rebuild and that’s why they have the depth on this team,” Windhorst said on 95.7 The Game’s Morning Roast. “Nobody would argue that [GM] Bob Myers and his front office have not done a tremendous job, and that Lacob and [co-owner] Peter Guber have done a great job in financing the team. But it is not a level playing field.”


Windhorst was defensive for much of the interview not understanding how the hosts or anyone else would take what he said on Tuesday night as disparaging in any way. I didn’t agree with one of the hosts, Joe Shasky, who said that it sounded like Windhorst was carrying the water for the owners who don’t want to dip into the luxury tax — though I have no pity for them — but I absolutely agreed with him that “checkbook win” comes off as a backhanded compliment, because it is.


The phrase was a great button to Windhorst’s post game comments, but it was going to ruffle some feathers and Windhorst should own it. His logic that many teams couldn’t carry four players making north of $25 million per season, especially if one of them had, before this season, never made an all-star team, long enough so in the Finals he can have the game of his life is fair. Still, just because that’s what Windhorst meant doesn’t mean people are required to take it that way. He can’t control how people interpret his words.

There’s no problem if he were to own the phrase and explain, just like he did on the radio, his reasoning, but don’t act surprised that people bristled by “checkbook win.” It’s a dismissive thing to say.


That also doesn’t excuse those of you who didn’t like what he said, to tweet what you did. Like he said on the radio, “both can be true.”