The Unexpected Cost of "First"
October 9, 2021 8:32 AM   Subscribe

When NBA News Breakers Start Breaking Teams

"There’s been a heightening in an epic battle of NBA reporting titans, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Shams Charania of The Athletic, and it’s spilling over into tangible consequences."
posted by Groundhog Week (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting that he blames the reporters reporting the facts instead of, you know, the teams that are actually breaking the rules.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:44 AM on October 9 [22 favorites]

The article does not blame the reporters. If anything, it points the finger NBA commissioner for his salutary neglect of rules enforcement:

"Overall, it’s hard to know whom to blame for the consequences, if anyone. It’s not Shams’ job to avoid tampering charges; it’s his job to break a story first. It’s not even necessarily Rich Paul’s job to avoid tampering. That onus falls on the Bulls, except they have to tamper because the rest of the league is eagerly doing so.... NBA commissioner Adam Silver has employed a laissez-faire approach in his reign, which has allowed agencies, top players and allied news breakers to accrue more and more power. But power can be a zero-sum game, and it appears the teams are losing out. This Bulls situation is just one more indignity for the team side."
posted by Groundhog Week at 9:49 AM on October 9 [3 favorites]

The business of athlete employment is such a weird place - things that would seem an abuse of power if not outright illegal in any other form of employment are normalized in sports.

The idea of "tampering" is one of these. It's anti-labour, and the way the stories about it are reported always makes the players, the employees, look like greedy rule-breakers instead of pointing out the ridiculousness of their employment contracts.
posted by thecjm at 10:05 AM on October 9 [11 favorites]

He did very much seem to blame the reporters to me. For example :

Now, teams just pray that hungry, competitive reporters don’t make them collateral damage in a media battle.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:40 AM on October 9 [5 favorites]

I follow the politics of the league more than the games, and even that is barely an arm-chair level hobby that I use as an escape from the deep exhaustion of actual-politics. Most of the interest comes from the fact that the players union has actual power, even if they sometimes negotiate poorly - their current bargaining agreement gives the players roughly 50% of revenue. Can you imagine a labor union that pulls that off in any other industry? I genuinely believe companies would shut down if labor unions had that level of power. During the 2011 NBA lockout, this was manifest through the barely contained contempt the owners had over the fact that they have to pay their players anything, much less a straight take of revenue. These guys look at their billionaire friends in other industries who have been taking a larger and larger percentage of revenue themselves since the 1970s, and despite the fact that team valuations have been on a meteoric rise since the early 90s, it's not enough, because their aforementioned billionaire friends are doing relatively better than they are.

Short rant aside, the only thing I find interesting about the Woj and Shams era is that Woj has actual power within the league which was hinted at in the article; that makes him a power broker as much as a journalist. 20+ years ago, yeah, all there was to do Beyond that, this story is nothing new; it's just rules enforcement made through the lens of PR and who holds what power internally rather than enforcement based on the written rules themselves.
posted by MillMan at 11:14 AM on October 9 [8 favorites]

The crux of the problem to me appears to be that the league has "rules" but doesn't care about the rules so long as people pretend the rules exist and are inviolable. Why the rule against "tampering" even exists doesn't make sense to me; it's supposed to be for "team cohesion" but does any of the people who would actually benefit from this believe there are no deals going on behind the scenes? I can't imagine the players are blind to stuff going on in their own locker room, and it's not like any of this is a surprise to the fans.

Do I just not understand why this sham of a rule continues to be prosecuted? Does this somehow benefit owners, because if so you'd expect them to actually follow the rule instead of ignoring it, and you certainly wouldn't expect them to act in a way that could penalize them like it's apparently about to penalize the Bulls.
posted by chrominance at 11:18 AM on October 9

Very interesting. The NBA’s off-season is generally more interesting than the regular season (things don’t really get going until the playoffs), largely because the players have so much more power over their careers than do NFL or MLB players, and there are so few per team, that they are much less a commodity.

Their labor union has negotiated far better terms for them than any other American sports league, securing gigantic guaranteed contracts for players early in their careers (e.g., Trae Young, $207 million extension to his rookie deal, which he secured after just one year of college and three years of NBA service, pretty much impossible for NFL or MLB players to do). I don’t really think the limits on the timing of free agent negotiations is much of a burden for the players, it’s usually the teams that are looking to push on the gas to get their preferred roster moves locked in. And I don’t really think that these stories end up putting the players in a bad light, I usually see it as a story about teams vs. league management, and to a lesser extent teams vs. agents. Players get the blame when they decide to leave to work somewhere else, or get a big raise but fail to win a championship.

The biggest drama this year is about Ben Simmons trying to force a trade from the 76ers, and I’ll admit I have a completely irrational interest in how that plays out.
posted by skewed at 11:24 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]

Do I just not understand why this sham of a rule continues to be prosecuted?

Sort of, because the real rule is "keep it on the down low", which worked before Twitter. There's real value in not having players conspicuously dating another team during the season, when it would not only affect team cohesion but would also cause questions about effective play against that team.

The obvious media-based solution is an embargo enforced on the signing team, who then enforces it on the player. If the team leaks it, they lose draft picks; if the player leaks it, "your new contract is invalid if publicly announced earlier than one week after the start of free agency". News breakers like Woz then agree with the leaker not to leak it when it would cause negative consequences.
posted by fatbird at 11:59 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]

is "news breaker" the youngest member of the warfighter-showrunner family of neologism?
posted by glonous keming at 12:27 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

I'm invested in the story because please dear god the Bulls look like they could be amazing this year, yet have given up a ton of future draft picks, pretty please don't take them or (and I'm a little stunned to be saying this) take Ball away.

The Woj/Shams thing is getting excessive, yet they only exist in this manner because of the insatiable demand for the latest news as soon as possible. What they do is on par with the NFL draft reporters who've made the (admittedly, kind of dumb spectacle) NFL Draft show pointless, since tweets announcing the picks come out before the selection is announced on the program. I get it, though. For me, the best part of any sports video game is the league/off season functions, dealing with drafting and free agency, and I doubt I'm alone on this. As terrible as the Bulls have been, the most exciting part of the season has tended to be the start of free agency (imagine my utter shock that the Bulls did things this year!) and the trade deadline (and last year, too!). It seems only fitting that, now that they've started to do things, they'll get hit with a penalty for doing them wrong.

The thread of the article that interested me the most, and I would like to have seen more on it, or see more of it elsewhere, is how disappointing Silver has been. Following up an overbearing, ruthless Stern can't be easy, and clearly, with the pandemic, keeping things going has been pretty amazing, but I don't know if I can say the league is in any kind of better place with him at the helm. It is enjoyable from a labor (and fan) standpoint, seeing the players take as much control as they have, especially compared to other leagues where the ownership is clearly (exploitatively) in control, and I would like to see Silver find a way to work with that for the betterment of the league, but I'm not sure he's up to it.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:55 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

I follow a couple news breakers in my sport (college football) and… I’m not sure why it’s a thing. Brett McMurphey is usually the first to report a hiring or a firing but… it’s reported everywhere else a few minutes later. It surprising that it’s turned into a career for a few dozen people.
posted by midmarch snowman at 6:52 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

I think the Silver era has been the most player oriented league control in a major US sport that I'm aware of. Sure, that's a relative thing with the league office standing largely for ownership and the player's union exerting the pressure to make them more aware of player needs/demands, but that does seem to actually make some dent in the way the league as a whole is run that goes beyond the bare minimum. There are still crappy owners to be sure, but the comparative political leaning of NBA owners to the other leagues is notably more open to talking about social issues and espousing more liberal views, yeah, billionaire liberalism, but still much better than the NFL or MLB, and that's encouraged by Silver's office, so the strength of the players union seems to have a good effect in that way and would be hard to walk back.

The league rules on things like tampering are part of the collective bargaining agreement and, while there is a lot of bullshit theater involved with it all that players and teams clearly don't follow to the letter, the need to have some constraints is reasonable for how disruptive it would be if teams could do things like make brazen offers to opponent players during the season and the like. Enforcing no talk rules with agents, players, and teams is gonna be near impossible to do for variety of different interests involved. Players are gonna talk to each other, agents are gonna work for better deals and teams are gonna talk with their own players and agents representing guys across the league that will lead to "suggestions" over what "could happen" when a good buddy of one of their players hits free agency or maybe agree "in theory" with an agent about the comparative value of a player on their team with a player on another.

The league also has to be aware that the NBA isn't parity driven and can't be with the importance of single players to team success, so most teams aren't really challenging for a title as much as hoping to reach the playoffs maybe, but more hoping to get that guy that might be a star and move them up to the next level. So the offseason, trade deadline, draft day stuff is really vital to league success by keeping the fan interest up. It becomes increasingly absurd for so much effort being put in to getting out info first, where first is by seconds, which applied pressure to all the transactions and reporting that isn't entirely healthy for the league, so they punish teams for utterly transparent violations as a kind of brake since that's the best option they have right now.

But as someone who follows the Timberwolves, believe me, I know how painful losing picks can be, but the league knows it can't over-penalize teams with draft pick loss either since that's deadly to a team and the fanbase and I don't think there's any way they'll reverse the Ball signing either. There'll be a penalty, but I don't think it'll be entirely crippling like the Joe Smith fiasco the Wolves pulled back in the day.

As a sort of side note, when the Wolves fired their head of basketball operations, Gersson Rosas recently the reasons for his firing were not reported very quickly even though there had been tweets from an insider in the organization about Rosas' relationships, licit and otherwise, since the summer, so the question there was more why did it take so long to get reported by the press when a lot of the background info was known long before.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:58 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

Oh, and as interesting as the Simmons thing is, the owners absolutely hate it I gather, Kyrie Irving anti-vax stance fiasco is starting to shape up to be every bit as bizarre. Irving won't be able to play in home games if he doesn't get the shots and people think he might retire if he's traded. So figure that one out. A trade of Simmons for Irving to swap problems would be an amusing end to it all.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:16 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

the need to have some constraints is reasonable for how disruptive it would be if teams could do things like make brazen offers to opponent players during the season and the like

But imagine the drama when your opposing coach hands instructs Vince McMahon to hand over a briefcase containing an offer letter to the star opposing player in the final timeout of the game.
posted by pwnguin at 11:07 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

Oh, and as interesting as the Simmons thing is,

Well, after the remarks of Doc when they lost to the Hawks during the last playoffs, it's not surprising Simmons wants out. Then again they would have lost to the Bucks anyway.
posted by ersatz at 1:57 AM on October 10

What’s been left out of a lot of this conversation is … gambling. Gamblers and news breakers have an interesting relationship. Sports betting is probably bigger in the US than any time in the last 75 years, at least for NBA, MLB, NFL…
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 4:06 AM on October 10

As little of a fan of Rivers as I am, I don’t fault him at all for his response after Simmons monumental egg laying, and have come to like Embiid quite a bit more this summer after the interview where he talked about how the team had tied itself in knots to placate Simmons, having Embiid (a generational talent) playing on the perimeter, signing Horford, losing Butler, and all the rest. The difference is pretty stark to me. Simmons wanted Embiid out of the post so he could do… well, whatever it is he does, so Embiid went and worked on his distance shooting, becoming a respectable threat from three.

Simmons, meanwhile, has been a lousy shooter since his rookie year, and shows no signs of improvement. Sure, expecting him to show up after a single off season and be a top scorer is a bit much, but at least work on a couple shots, post moves, or whatever. Had he admitted he made a mistake at the end of the game, passing instead of dunking, maybe this would have all blown over, but it seems (from a distance) like he’s unwilling to admit fault, or accept that he needs to be able to shoot to come anywhere near realizing his potential.

Irving is equally maddening. There’s echoes of Marbury unwilling to play behind Garnett when he demanded out from under James, but with infinitely more talent. There’s his amazing sense of social justice, mixed with idiocy like flat earth shit. You take him covering salaries for the WNBA players, and then wipe that away with the vaccine shit. I have no idea how it will end, but whatever the outcome, as long as it drags Brooklyn down with it, sure, whatever.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:08 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

While I can't defend Simmons' response as being a very mature way to handle the situation, especially after having just committed to a long term contract with the team, as it seems some of the problems had been long standing, I don't think Rivers, Embiid, or the ownership/management has handled any of it very well either. Throwing Simmons under the bus after the playoffs was really dumb. I don't care if it's Embiid's usual "just being honest" thing, as the best player on the team that will always be casting blame elsewhere more. Rivers can blame the media all he wants, but it ain't like reporting is new to him. Whatever he might claim to have meant, he left it open enough to be taken as a dig and would have said something different if he was actually defending Simmons.

This wasn't the first time Simmons has faced that kind of criticism from his teammates, while the rancor from Sixers fanbase can be downright toxic, so wanting to leave makes some sense for being fed up with it all, but he should have decided that before his extension and/or found a better way to deal with it that doesn't just look like fear and spite. I admit to being somewhat amused by how it's all playing out though, with Morey's obnoxious trade demands after Simmons failings in the playoffs and actions since along with the fans that hate Simmons, think he's awful, and want him gone still somehow think he's worth a king's ransom as if the rest of the league hasn't noticed the bind the Sixers are in. Even if they do get Simmons to report, that isn't a strategy for success at this point, with things so far gone in the relationship. As for the shooting thing, that is a big problem, but fixing it at an NBA level isn't just a question of wanting to, it's both extremely hard to be get an NBA level shot for players who don't already have it and there is the mental aspect that has kept even some of the highest level players from refining that part of their game. Shaq couldn't shoot free throws either for just one example.

As a Wolves fan I hope they don't get Simmons if they'd have to pay the demands of players and picks Morey is claimed as wanting, I'm not sure I'd want them to get Simmons at all right now, but the Timberwolves can't really afford to be too choosy on getting good players since lord knows no smart player would sign with them if they had any other option.

The Kyrie thing is a whole other level of mixed up, I have no idea how to sort out, so I"m just watching it to see what happens next.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:19 PM on October 10

can you imagine if these two focused their reporting powers on the story dug up in mind-bending detail on Truehoop about the nefarious history of Apollo?

the nba is fascinating because it sidesteps the most obvious odiousness of the nfl, and also has more pop-culture mass appeal than baseball (in many american cities, at least). there is so much to investigate there, from big money, to issues of race and class, to yes, more traditional sportswriting like what the everloving fuck is going on with ben simmons and the sixers.
posted by wibari at 10:41 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

Part of the reason for the rule is to protect the supposed integrity of the game. Kind of like insider trading is prohibited in the stock market.

And part of why it is becoming a real genuine issue now is that legalized sports gambling makes the integrity of the game a really big financial deal with massive perverse incentives all around.

Rubes are going to get fleeced, game fixers are going to get caught and the gambling public is going to get pissed off.

Or maybe not. Recent times have taught me that I know nothing about people.
posted by srboisvert at 1:24 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

The Sixers / Ben Simmons beef is, per Charania, moving in the direction of Simmons rejoining the team. I generally side with players in labor disputes, but Simmons' strategy of burning bridges in Philly after one of the all-time worst playoff performances imaginable seems rather ill-considered, with the price of his representatives' failure to think just one move ahead crossing the $1 million mark tonight. This is the kind of power play you can make if you're an Anthony Davis / James Harden level talent in the last year or two of your deal, not merely a top 20-ish in the NBA guy with 4 years left. It's also the kind of move you generally make to get yourself onto a winning team, not off of one.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:34 PM on October 11

Huh, that’s funny to hear. Last thing I saw was that he’d cleaned out his home in Philly as a “I’m done here” thing.

I was just watching a bit of the Bulls preseason game against the Cavs, and Stacey King (who I’m just honestly exhausted by, and given the option, I’ll listen to the other team’s announcers instead of), of all people, was a voice of reason. In talking about Lonzo Ball, King was pointing out that he came into the league on a wave of hype about how great he’d be, and then sort of flopped a bit. He couldn’t shoot at all, and made the choice to do something about it, to the point where he was shooting 40% (I think) from 3 last season. King went on, naturally, to compare that to Simmons, holding up Ball as a player in roughly the situation, but making that decision to do the work to make himself a more complete player, to the point that he was playing small forward more than anything in New Orleans last year.

And, gusottertrout, I can definitely see pushback at Rivers and Embiid for their comments, but I can’t imagine that was just a moment where they’d had enough. As Embiid said, personnel decisions were made around Simmons, yet seemingly Simmons has made no move to address his shooting, which in turn pretty much cost the team a playoff series. The frustration there has got to be astounding. Imagine the Shaq/Kobe feud, but Kobe couldn’t shoot?

Maybe Simmons will turn this around, but yeah, he’s playing for the absolute worst fan base in the league, and at this point, if he does return to the team, the fans are going to be awful.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:54 PM on October 11

I can definitely see pushback at Rivers and Embiid for their comments, but I can’t imagine that was just a moment where they’d had enough. As Embiid said, personnel decisions were made around Simmons, yet seemingly Simmons has made no move to address his shooting, which in turn pretty much cost the team a playoff series.

Sure, but at some point you just have to accept things are what they are. They seem to want Simmons to be something different than he is and that may not be in the cards. If Simmons is a fragile ego guy, harping on it isn't gonna make things better. Look at how Brooklyn has handled the Kyrie issue, the guys there get the situation and are trying to keep it in check, even though they might have to deal with Kyrie missing a bunch of homegames. If they can't work it out, then at least they aren't making the situation actively worse by antagonizing Irving. The Sixers felt Simmons was good enough to get them to the playoffs and had skills they could build around even knowing he couldn't shoot, they went with that and got burned in the end but that's how it goes. They still almost made it to the finals, so it wasn't as if Simmons didn't help with that, he just has a big weakness that can be exploited.

Now their bigger problem is if Simmons has developed the yips because he can't handle a certain level of pressure, then bringing him back in front of a hostile fanbase isn't gonna help anything when/if he already thinks the team doesn't have his back which could destroy what remains of his trade value. If Simmons comes back and plays well and things look to be forgotten, maybe it works out and they can trade him later or keep him or whatever, but there's a big risk in it all for them which is partly self inflicted for how badly they've dealt with it all.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:39 PM on October 11

Then again they would have lost to the Bucks anyway.

Are we actually sure the Bucks did win the NBA Championship? Robin Lopez has some questions.

“I’m still not sure that Milwaukee won the championship,” Lopez said. “I wasn’t there. I didn’t watch the game myself. So, I guess I’ll go off the basis of, there’s got to be some kind of proof. I’m gonna do my own research and figure out if they won it.”

(Lopez throwing some shade on the anti-vax crowd there.)

There’s echoes of Marbury unwilling to play behind Garnett when he demanded out from under James

And, ouch, the Marbury thing still stings.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:06 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

Kyrie and the Nets were getting tired of playing second fiddle to the Simmons/76ers drama, so they just amped it up a notch: Nets are not going to allow Kyrie to play or practice any games until he can report to practice and play at home. So basically, he's sitting until he gets vaccinated or NY lifts its COVID restrictions. Brought to you by Shams, of course.
posted by skewed at 10:18 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Shams taking some gunfire off the starboard bow from the HMS Defector:

Shams Charania Needs To See His Teacher After Class
Charania’s latest work, published Tuesday night, might be the apex of a career-long battle against prose, but it’s tougher to stomach because of how uncritically it gives voice to Kyrie Irving’s bog-standard anti-vaccine views. These are the consequences of The Athletic siccing its scoophound on the rare story with supra-basketball implications. You wind up with sentences that could have been found on a paranoid Facebook meme, only somehow less coherent.

“The Athletic has learned through multiple sources what has been behind his stance and decision to not take the vaccine, reasoning which has not been made public to date,” Charania teases in the second paragraph, as if to prepare the reader for some revelation beyond the familiar anti-vaxxer babble. A few paragraphs later, it turns out to be a common talking point: It’s about control, man. Employers requiring employees to take a safe vaccine that creates a safer workplace must be resisted at all costs—at tens of millions of dollars in cost, even. Irving, who can afford it, is standing up for all the little guys, who cannot. That’s a story you could tell, if you saw your job as faithfully relaying the thoughts of idiots:
Multiple sources with direct knowledge of Irving’s decision have told The Athletic that Irving is not anti-vaccine and that his stance is that he is upset that people are losing their jobs due to vaccine mandates. It’s a stance that Irving has explained to close teammates. To him, this is about a grander fight than the one on the court and Irving is challenging a perceived control of society and people’s livelihood, according to sources with knowledge of Irving’s mindset. It is a decision that he believes he is capable to make given his current life dynamics. “Kyrie wants to be a voice for the voiceless,” one source said.

What is the gap between Irving’s belief and a hypothetical “anti-science” or “anti-vaccine” belief? A responsible reporter might poke around and find no space at all. A scoop-brained doofus will allow the reader to believe that the guy liking Instagram posts from a microchips-in-the-vaccine account actually has some high-minded labor-first stance against vaccine mandates—because, of course, that’s what “sources” have assured him. The scoop-brained insider will treat that stance as legitimate, without pushing back too much, because it’s mission critical to publish this before anyone else. Carrying water for friendly agents is onething; carrying water for conspiratorial clowns is another. It’d be appreciated if his editors at The Athletic could recognize the difference.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:51 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]

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