WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Looking back on the LeBron decision to return to Cleveland, it’s clear every national basketball reporter’s zeal to break the story was all for naught, as James’ letter proved a well-thought out and highly orchestrated plan to break his own news.
But in the days leading up to James’ non-announcement announcement, the ‘Where will he go?’ hype had reached a point of maddening hysteria, with every Chris Broussard ‘Source:’ tweet seemingly tipping LeBron’s hand in the direction of either Miami or Cleveland, and the few but to-the-point tweets from Chris Sheridan — who insisted he knew James’ decision had been made, but could say nothing more — galvanizing a Cleveland base in support of LeBron’s inevitable return home.
There were others who claimed, citing sources, to know where James would be heading, and plenty more willing to report on those findings.
Through it all, James would have his day, curb four years of negative Decision-based spin, and be welcomed back with open arms by Cavs fans.
One reporter, though, Brian Windhorst, who’s built a career around reporting LeBron James news — covering him for ESPN in Miami, in Cleveland for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and even co-authoring two books (along with Terry Pluto) on James — remained mostly silent through all the noise.
Perhaps, looking back, Windhorst knew ESPN had already been squeezed out of the equation, possibly in an effort by James to separate this free agency decision from the highly controversial and nationally televised announcement, delicately titled, ‘The Decision,’ which aired on ESPN in 2010.
Or, maybe, Windhorst really knew nothing.
Even still, as everyone else with a source rushed to Twitter to put their reputations on record, Windhorst — the guy who was groomed to break such news — did quite the opposite.
Instead, against the grain and admirably, really, Windhorst backed away from the fray.
In an age in which reporting first is often more rewarded than reporting accurately, Windhorst’s appearance Thursday night — at the height of the LeBron hysteria — on Keith Olbermann’s self-titled ESPN show, can thus be taken as a rare public declaration of honest journalism.
Bram Weinstein, filling in for Olbermann, asked the question:
“There’s been a tremendous amount of information that’s been put out there,” Weinstein said. “I was saying this to our producers, I said, ‘Until I hear it from Brian Windhorst, I’m not going to believe it.’ What do you make of all the things that are out there, from — the Cavaliers colors are gonna be up on his website, to the police have been told to be on alert in Cleveland — and then none of these things seem to come to fruition throughout these last couple of days. What do you make of all the information that’s been out there about the LeBron watch?”
The floor was Windhorst’s:
“Right, well, we live in the absolute heart of the information age, and we have a void of information,” Windhorst said. “So something will fill that vacuum, and it is. From my standpoint, on this particular story — and I’ve made mistakes on stories before, I’ve been guilty of speculation before, I’ve gotten stories that I thought were true, that turned out to be false, before; I’m not sitting on a high horse — but on this particular story, when it involves this many people, and affects this many people, I am simply not going to deviate from what I know for sure is true.
“And in this case, there’s only like three people I’m going to trust with what LeBron’s going to do, and one of them is LeBron, and Chris Bosh can’t hear back from LeBron, so he’s not calling me. So there’s really only two people that I’m trusting here, and they have been very diligent and steadfast in their statements all the way through — whether it’s telling us when meetings are, whether it’s telling us what LeBron’s contract offers are — and they’re saying to me, ‘No decision has been reached.’
“So at the risk of being the 70th person to report the news, I would rather be the 70th person to report it, than be the first person being wrong and affecting people’s lives in a negative way. And I know, being from Cleveland, how sensitive this story is. And I can’t stop it. It’s already down the street, around the corner, the story’s there, the people are gathering at his house — but I am gonna do my best to not give a story, or not give information until I am as positive it’s true as possible, and that’s just the way I’m gonna treat it.”
Just look at the time gap between his tweets. First, there’s this, on Wednesday, July 9 — two days before LeBron’s announcement:
As LeBron takes his time to make choice, Chris Bosh is running out of time with Rockets: espn.go.com/nba/truehoop/m…—
Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 10, 2014
Then, there’s Friday, July 11 — six minutes after Lee Jenkins, who penned LeBron’s letter, broke the story on which he’d been sitting:
Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) July 11, 2014
LeBron James is returning to Cleveland, sources confirm. First in Sports Illustrated.—
Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 11, 2014
Not first, but probably not 70th, either.
(Thanks to ESPN for sharing the video above. The portion of the segment discussed begins at the 7-minute mark.)