SBD/Issue 181/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With Plain Dealer Cavs Reporter Brian Windhorst

Windhorst Has Covered
LeBron Since 2003

Most NBA reporters look forward to the offseason as a time to shift into a slower gear after seven-plus months of on-court action. But this summer presents a different bear to BRIAN WINDHORST, on the beat of the Cavaliers -- and perhaps more notably LEBRON JAMES -- for the Plain Dealer. A graduate of St. Vincent-St.Mary High School in Akron, Windhorst has covered the King's career since his fellow alumnus leaped into the NBA in '03. With James just weeks away from entering the much-anticipated summer of free agency, and the Cavaliers without a coach, Windhorst talks to Assistant Managing Editor Brian Helfrich about what lies ahead.

Best NBA writers: SI’s CHRIS BALLARD (Some of his writing is brilliant); ESPN’s BILL SIMMONS (Does a great job of promoting interest in the NBA).
Most entertaining athlete to cover: DAMON JONES
First NBA game in-person: Knicks-Cavaliers, Jan. 7, 1989.
If not the NBA, you’d like to cover: A presidential campaign.

Q: What about being an NBA beat reporter would surprise most casual basketball fans?

Windhorst: Every single day I know there’s going to be something to come up that I didn’t expect to happen. I honestly have no idea what I’m going to be writing about from one day to the next. Also, the NBA is very much alive in the middle of the night. A lot of conversations between agents and GMs happen in the middle of the night, so some of the most important information gets discussed and passed at two or three in the morning.

Q: The NBA beat seems to be pretty wearing.

Windhorst: I like what I call ordinary time -- the time between December and mid-March. That’s when there is a nice cadence to it, you have a couple eight-day road trips to warm weather. When you get into the playoffs, there’s so much more interest and so much more work. I’m leaving the arena around midnight during the season, and after a playoff game I’m leaving between two and three. But the hardest two weeks of the year are always the first two weeks in July, because that’s free agency. Everybody is scattered, you can’t get people and everybody is secretive. Unfortunately, this year that’s going to stretch out to two months. Everyone talks about how the season is so long and a grind, but that’s the grind I like: practice, games. There’s a rhythm to it.

Q: Is the long-awaited summer of free agency casting a shadow over the playoffs?

Windhorst: We’ve become a fantasy culture; people are more excited about transactions than the game itself, which is not something that I like. I like the game. I like covering the team. But right now, covering the team means having a story out for the noon news cycle, another one for the five o’clock news cycle and analyzing and reacting to stuff all day long.

LeBron's Impending Free Agency Means A Busy,
And Perhaps Stressful, Summer For Windhorst

Q: Do you get more bad leads than credible ones?

Windhorst: You don’t get many credible ones, so by the nature of it, you do. The big factor you have in this place and time is getting things confirmed. There is this entire world, a quasi-media, that’s growing by the day and does not have to operate on the same set of rules. All it takes is for a major outlet to pick up one of their reports and it makes it look like you’re chasing. Sometimes you are, but a lot of times stuff goes out there that’s just dead bogus. Right now, there’re all these rumors about where LeBron is, what he’s doing. When July 1 comes, there are going to be LeBron sightings in New York, Moscow, Miami, Los Angeles. It’s going to be hard to know which way is up. I’m not looking forward to those days at all.

Q: Has the importance of being first diminished with the rise of Twitter?

Windhorst: First is now a very relative term. Are you first to get it on Twitter? Are you first to get it on the Internet? Ultimately, I don’t think the fan really cares. We’re all sitting there updating Twitter every minute, but I don’t think the average fan is. I think it’s who can put it in perspective better, who can take it to the next level, spin it forward. You don’t get rewarded necessarily for being first, because instantly ESPN or another group is going to grab it anyway. Your coverage then takes on ESPN. Yeah, ESPN will credit you on some occasions, but ultimately they’re the ones everybody is watching and so they’re going to get it all anyway.

Q: Growing up around Cleveland, is it hard for you as a journalist to separate Brian Windhorst the Cavs fan who has a good relationship with LeBron from Brian Windhorst the journalist?

Windhorst: It’s tougher to cover the team than it is LeBron. Any reporter who covers a team would be lying to you if he said that it is not advantageous to be covering a team that is winning. I do know that no matter what happens next year, I’m going to be covering the Cavaliers. The job itself at the core won’t be very different, and I’m never going to be rooting for the Cavs openly. I’m always going to be hard on them. But I don’t care what anyone says -- they’re lying if they say it’s not better for them if their team is winning: the exposure that you get, the extra opportunities you get to earn money. I’d like to think I do a pretty good job on the beat and haven’t become known just because I cover LeBron. But ultimately, if you’re covering Team X and Team X is 25 games under-.500, you could be doing some of the best work in the league and you’re not going to get noticed.

Q: So I have to ask: What would be the impact of LeBron to New York?

Windhorst: I know some of the New York media guys have taken this anti-LeBron stance. Either they’re putting up a front or they’re fools, because LeBron coming to New York would be the greatest thing that happened to their careers, just as LeBron going to the Cavs was the greatest thing that happened to my career. LeBron going to New York would elevate the entire NBA. One of the reasons why ESPN is such a driver of the LeBron stuff is because if he were to go to New York and raise the Knicks or Nets to a championship contender, it has the opportunity to increase the NBA’s profile on ESPN. This is one of the reasons why ESPN is so amped up on this story, because it would benefit ESPN if LeBron goes to New York.

Q: So LeBron signs with the Heat and the Miami Herald calls. Are you answering?

Windhorst: Well I do have a home in South Florida (laughs). Everybody seems to be joking about that. I was in Akron, which is my hometown, and I was very happy at the Akron Beacon Journal. I interviewed at maybe 6 or 7 different publications before I got a job in Cleveland, and it took a couple of very high-ranking people to go to the Plain Dealer from Akron just for me to get the job. I am very lucky to have the job I have; there are only about 55 or 60 traveling NBA beat writers. I think most people who are at the Plain Dealer, if they had the opportunity to get a better job, they’d have to at least look at it. But jobs like these don’t grow on trees, so to assume any publication would want me to go anywhere would be not only unrealistic but pigheaded.

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