Tell me Adrian Wojnarowski’s great, I’ll blink twice and say “you could be right.” I come to this space not to impugn his body of work, career or character. The state of sports journalism is what consumes, not any particular interest in a single reporter. I think.
There’s so much rumor that we lose track of it all. We fix on a titillating morsel of “sources say” like hyenas on a corpse–only to quickly move on to tomorrow’s scraps. Reporters are generally free to revel in the unsubstantiated, threatened more by diminished publishing profits than by a track record.
With that in mind, I cringe in the direction of “Inside look at LeBron’s free-agent coup.” I’m a political junkie, and this piece prompts a familiar dismay. The article draws from a hated cannon of political journalism: An “insider” reporter uses quotes from other (anonymous) insiders to separate the cool kids from the dorks. Beltway journalists like to hold the “very serious” grownup insiders above their “unserious” outsider foes. Wojnarowski’s screed is bulwarked by this stuffy, condescending attitude, which rankles my outsider sensibilities.
Before we sift through the fishy sand that is “Inside Look” I begin with a slim of sliver of good from the piece. Here’s a respectable way to use anonymous sourcing:
“The NBA doesn’t seem interested in pursuing a tampering probe, but a senior NBA official wants the league to investigate whether Riley promised James employment and benefits to members of his camp.”
A whistle blower wishes to do right by the rules, but has to shield himself in the meantime. I have no issues with this. If true, it’s all above board. If true.
Here’s a counter-example from an earlier Wojnarowski article:
“He (LeBron James) seems more enthusiastic about this (free agency) than he did trying to beat the Celtics,” said one Western Conference GM.”
Zing! Pow! What a brave way to cattily snark at a rival player. How noble to print that very important slice of anonymous information.
There is nothing wrong with believing LeBron James to be an egomaniacal jackass. Printing such an opinion is not only understandable—it’s popular these days. So much of the popularity shift is LeBron’s fault, if not his Decision. I’d even go a step further—the attitude he paraded on that postmodern joke of a TV special made me fear for James’ sanity.
But I do take issue with death-by-Casper insults. I realize that athletes are a satisfying target. We hate them, we love them, we want to be them, but we also know we’d be better at being them. They aren’t human beings so much as they are avatars, legends, and fodder for morality fables. And the petty gossip is fun. Who cares if nameless critics rip sports figures to wood chips?
I do. Call me naïvely self righteous, and ask why I crave ethics in a trivial pursuit. Can’t help it, won’t help it. Sports journalism should be better. At least in my deluded head.
Anyway, I have many questions for Adrian, but my overarching query is simple:
“You know this, how?”
This supposedly “damning” LeBron article can’t link a human to a quote. It’s a heap of “insider” information that comes on the heels of Adrian’s Heat-less LeBron reporting. Wojnarowski never sniffed Miami, and now he’s sagely telling us how it all went down. Call me suspicious.
“No one could stand James as a 19-year-old in the 2004 Athens Olympics, nor the 2006 World Championships.”
Really, not a one? No one at all? And none of these no ones can give you a named-quote about it?
“After the NBA witnessed the behavior of James and his business manager Maverick Carter during the 2007 All-Star Weekend, the commissioner’s office sent word to USA Basketball the league wouldn’t force James on them for the Olympics.”
These events are connected? What did Maverick Carter do? What did LeBron do? Details? Does anyone actually believe—on the record—that Team USA was apathetic about LeBron James due in part to Maverick Carter’s 2007 ASG behavior?
“Legacies were on the line,” one league official said, “and they weren’t going to let LeBron [expletive] it up for everyone in China.”
Are these anonymous slights germane to the story about 2008 free agent collusion, or are they just plain fun? If these big, bad, manly men were so intent on keeping LeBron in line, they could have, you know, publicly said something.
“Through Nike, James ultimately heeded the message and became more tolerable to coaches, teammates and staff. Team USA assigned Jason Kidd to babysit him at the Tournament of the Americas in 2007, to try to teach him something the Cavaliers never had a veteran to do: professionalism.”
How exactly did Jason Kidd “babysit” an adult LeBron James? Is Kidd really the best “professionalism” mentor around?
“James lived to make demands, but those with knowledge of his plans insist he never intended to re-sign with the Cavaliers.”
Adrian, I read “Cleveland ties could still bind LeBron.” It was printed on July 4th, not April Fools’. Other than an offhand Pat Riley reference I saw no Heat foreshadowing. Were you among those out of the loop? Can you tell us why this happened?
“Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, a statistics analyst, met with Chris Bosh at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 armed with an iPad. Morey’s cult followers on the web hailed it as a resounding success, but Riley never believed he was losing Bosh to the MIT gang.”
Is this an insult? If so, was it necessary to insult Daryl Morey and Morey’s “cult” fans in this offhanded manner? Were you trying to insinuate that Morey is too much of a nerd to woo a free agent? Are you a Kindle kinda’ guy? Oh well, I guess Morey is a silly outsider and his crazed fanboys are deluded rabble.
“Carter wanted credibility beyond the public perception of him as merely James’ childhood buddy, and ultimately he could no longer hide his jealousy when Wesley started to get too much public recognition for packaging the players in free agency. Privately, everyone in the circle knew James was leaving Cleveland, and it would be harder for his Akron guys to get credit for the deal.”
Do you have a Maverick Carter mood ring? Does it come with the Maverick Carter voodoo doll?
“After a Yahoo! Sports column detailing the strife within Team LeBron in late June, Carter unwrapped his jealousy and called the New York Times to insist Wesley would have nothing to do with choosing a team.”
Again with the jealousy.
“Still, he (Wes) stayed in close contact with James through a Nike official, Lynn Merritt, and let Carter cool down from his public tantrum.”
This is a tantrum? Carter merely claimed that Wesley had no influence over the process. Based on the Heat outcome, that may have been the case. But it sure was nice of wise, adult Wes to “let Carter cool down from his public tantrum.”
“As the New York Knicks followed the Nets by repeating those themes with an array of power points and charts about accumulating wealth, James drifted in and out of focus.”
Is there any proof of this? A particular question he asked? Did he not pepper Prokhorov with inquiries about Brighton Beach nightlife?
“As it started to get back to Jay-Z that the Nets were trailing to the Heat and Bulls, a Nets official close to ownership – against the wishes of several peers – hatched a plan to leak the notes of a Prokhorov staff meeting to a media outlet. The leaked notes indicated that Prokhorov believed James’ brand would be diminished as part of a three-star team in Miami. What’s more, the notes also indicated what great respect Prokhorov had for Maverick Carter.”
Maverick Carter again?
“Later that day, Carter was on the phone with free agent Mike Miller telling him that James was going to Miami and that he needed to join them as a sharpshooter playing off the three stars.”
Maverick Carter should be a GM?
“James had been gone a long time. They (Cleveland) just never wanted to believe it.”
Apparently they weren’t the only ones. From AW’s July 4th column: “And maybe most of all now, you get the idea that James is an overgrown teenager getting a few laughs with his buddies, driving home to Akron from this cattle call in Cleveland to watch cartoons, play video games and kill some time until he gives the nod to post the big news that maybe the rest of us should’ve known all along: He’s home.”
“James had wanted Brown gone a year earlier after the Cavs lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Orlando Magic – despite Brown guiding Cleveland to 66 victories while winning the league’s Coach of the Year award.”
So LeBron would make a good GM?
If all this was so telegraphed, then Wojnarowski missed multiple Morse memos. Now Adrian claims retroactive omniscience? My temples throb at the thought. Insiders should prove their status with a hefty helping of named sources. I give leeway to those with impeccable track records, but Adrian just whiffed on a big one.
Say this about Maverick Carter: He was much better at keeping a secret than Adrian Wojnarowski was at uncovering it.