Look, I get that sportswriters have difficult jobs at times, especially in a media landscape where news breaks constantly and immediately and people have unprecedented access to information. Really, I do – although I benefit from their hyperactivity as a consumer, I don’t envy their role as producers. Still, that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) excuse the volatility of their opinions on a day-to-day basis.
Case in point: Yahoo!’s (that exclamation point for branding makes contractions look totally wrong, BTW) Adrian Wojnarowski.
This is a story in six parts.
With the NBA season nearly complete, Woj offered effusive praise for LeBron James’ Game 4 performance, a six-point Heat win over the Thunder where LeBron went for 26 points, 9 boards and 12 assists – a performance punctuated by a dagger-ific three-pointer he hit after checking out of and back into the game with a quad cramp. Praise well deserved, to be sure, and totally consistent with Woj’s approach to Miami’s playoffs up until this moment.
In case the hyperlinks and prior lead-in were unclear, these are six articles Wojnarowski wrote during the NBA Playoffs between the dates of May 18th and June 20th. Six different articles, with six mostly inconsistent premises, over the course of ONE MONTH. Even FOX News has more consistent stances! (Oooh, topical! Sorry, it’s election season.)
Let’s go in order. First: “As Heat, other teams show cracks, Spurs still rolling in playoffs” (May 18th, 2012)
The premise here is that, while the Heat were “struggling” against the Indiana Pacers (more on this later), the Spurs, as selfless an example of team play and anti-egoism as you’ll find, held a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers. Woj’s first article includes a few gem quotes. Examples, you say? (I’m assuming you said that.) Don’t mind if I do!
- “Five years later [after the Spurs’ last title], Duncan is 36 years old, and the truth is unmistakable: He’s closer to his fifth championship than James is to his first.”
- “Perhaps Oklahoma City will win the Western Conference finals, but make no mistake: These Spurs would absolutely take apart the Heat in the NBA Finals – with Bosh or without him.”
- “Five years later, the stars chased each other to Miami, Los Angeles and New York, and the strangest thing happened: The Super Team still resided in San Antonio, where the Spurs’ formula remained unmatched.”
Nevermind the fact that the “stars chasing each other” here represents two FAs joining Miami together (LeBron and Chris Bosh), one opting out of his contract to join an average and disheveled Knicks team (Stoudemire) and one being traded by a league-owned team (Chris Paul) – apparently every transaction that occurs on a playoff contender and/or potential playoff contender is tantamount to collusion. Even without that crazy assertion, Woj is still being a little aggressive when he suggests that the Spurs were closer to a title than the Heat (at this point Miami was down 2-1, hardly [and evidently not] impossible to overcome). Also, bear in mind that, at this point, the 76ers were ahead of the Boston Celtics 2-1 – technically, they were closer to a title than the Heat.
Let’s move on: “While LeBron James experiment teeters on collapse, Erik Spoelstra reveals Heat’s softness (June 6th, 2012)
Miraculously, the Miami SuperEgos managed to defeat the Indiana PaceSpurs in the prior series, despite the PaceSpurs being a collection of team-oriented, blue collar, lunch pail carrying blue-pails and the Heat being the basketball equivalent of the Kardashian family (only, you know, talented). Unfortunately, Miami found itself trailing in the series 3-2, meaning OH MY GOD SOUND THE DEATH KNELL THE ERA OF SELFISHNESS IS OVER:
- “All along, they believed this would be easy, that the NBA would lay down for them. Two years ago, they believed this resembled Team USA, that most of the league would crumble like Angola to them.”
- “‘We played good enough to give ourselves a chance to win,’ James said. ‘That’s all you can ask for.’ In what universe is that all the NBA’s three-time Most Valuable Player can ask for? To play well enough for a chance to win?”
- “One more loss, and Armageddon awaits for this franchise and its stars. One more loss, and the wall could come tumbling down on LeBron James, these Heat and a world that may see a modern basketball superpower dismantled before everyone’s eyes.”
- “The human condition is this: He’s begging his Heat stars to do something they didn’t do a year ago, when they lost a series lead, lost the momentum, lost the edge and lost their way going into a Game 6. Please, please, don’t collapse under the weight of our frailties again.”
AHHHHH MIAMI FANS MIGHT AS WELL BE ON SUICIDE WATCH RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOUR TEAM NEEDS TO WIN TWO GAMES IN A ROW!!!
Err, sorry. These articles are starting to get to me and I’m only through two of them. Again, though, I love these sweeping statements: Miami “believed this would be easy” and “Armageddon awaits for this franchise” if it had lost to Boston. Not only does this imply an incredible amount of first-hand knowledge on the part of Miami’s players, but most well-adjusted people would assume two playoff losses in a row is unfortunate but not entirely hard to believe (the Buffalo Bills lost FOUR GODDAMN SUPER BOWLS IN A ROW, after all, and these Heat are relatively more talented in their field and era). Our pal Adrian? This is apparently the time for (another) indictment of the Heat and everything that’s wrong with basketball. This becomes a hilariously revisionist point as real time unfolds, but you already knew that unless you are the world’s most disciplined sports fan who is just now seeing this series on DVR.
In which case, um, spoiler alert: “Kevin Durant seizes Finals moment, Game 1 victory over LeBron James” (June 13th, 2012)
Turns out it only takes a week for history to change, as the Thunder, who defeated their aging template in San Antonio, beat the Heat in Game 1 of the Finals. Let’s just save some time and go for some money quotes, OK?
- “Durant unleashed 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter, and it was the rare night when James had to listen to a serenade of “MVP … MVP … MVP” out of a home crowd, and wonder privately: Are they right?”
- “When it was over, and the Heat were bent over, beaten and beleaguered to end this game, the Thunder staff privately wondered: Does Miami truly believe it can keep up with us going six deep on the roster?”
I’ll end the quotes here because the rest of the article is just sickening hyperbole – seriously, go read the whole thing, it’s like a Kevin Durant slashfic. The real points to keep in mind here are twofold: First, LeBron was most definitely not wondering if the Oklahoma City crowd (also I love how Wojnarowski describes OKC as “cozy surroundings,” which is possibly the most patronizing way someone can refer to a smaller town) was right in calling their hometown star the MVP. See for yourself:
- LeBron James: 27.1 PPG, 6.1 APG, 7.9 RPG, 30.8 PER rating, 23.5 EWA
- Kevin Durant: 28.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 8.0 RPG, 26.3 PER rating, 20.0 EWA
By no means is this a bad season for Durant, but LeBron is better at almost literally everything. Even if you want to pick this award based entirely on anecdotal evidence, in which case I hate you and let’s never talk about major awards again, odds are you’d pick LeBron for some nebulous factor like “his ability to take over a game” or whatever.
Oh, and the second point? Again, this was after just one game.
So hey, guess what happens two days later?? “LeBron James prevails in one-on-one battle with Kevin Durant, crosses critical Finals threshold” (June 15th, 2012)
Apparently “crossing a critical Finals threshold” means outdueling another NBA star, which LeBron and Co. totally didn’t do the prior year against the Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks, when Miami led 2-0 before selfishly and egotistically dropping four straight games. Some money quotes:
- “No one would’ve been surprised if the Heat collapsed in the fourth quarter, but they didn’t.”
- “And then, with the Thunder within three and Erik Spoelstra’s play falling apart in the final seconds of the shot-clock, James hit a daring, difficult 15-foot bank shot with 1:26 left. Before the deed was done, James made a beautiful pass to Chris Bosh on a dunk. He also went 4-for-4 at the foul line in the final quarter. No ghosts for James, no goblins. And yet, James gave Durant a final chance for victory when he shot a lazy, long jumper with 14.9 seconds left and the Heat holding on, 98-96. Where was the drive to the rim? Where was the aggression?”
Sorry that last one was just a full paragraph – this perfectly encapsulates everything that drives me crazy about the media’s portrayal of LBJ. Literally one sentence before this, Woj wrote “Everyone started to get that sinking feeling that James could be on the wrong end of a crushing collapse” (emphasis mine, obvs). And then what happened? James hit a “daring” shot, made a pretty assist on a Bosh dunk, hit all his free throws…and then let Durant hit a “lazy” jumper with 15 seconds left. Seriously? Lazy? That’s how we’re going to describe Durant’s shot? Two days ago Durant was some sort of ugly zombie symphony of akimbo limbs and crazy contortions, and now he’s effortlessly torching the Heat? Honestly, LeBron can’t do anything right here. If he’d played better defense, he’d have been “risking a crucial foul” or “wanting it too hard” or something. Dude cannot win with the media.
But hey, what a difference three more days makes!! “Thunder can’t match the resolve or hunger of LeBron James and the Heat” (June 18th, 2012)
You heard it here first: LeBron James and his band of selfishstars, after having the makeup of perennial chokers, were now putting their “resolve” and “hunger” on display – in a 2-1 series (!!!). Remember how a few rounds ago Woj was writing off the Heat as an inferior team to the Pacers and already crowning the Spurs? This is just as intellectually dishonest and way more insulting, since he’s been casually dismissing the Heat since the playoffs started.
I’m tired and bitter now. I didn’t even include any quotes in the last one. Let’s just get this over with: “LeBron James’ signature Finals moment: 3-pointer on cramped legs that likely broke Thunder” (June 20th, 2012)
No, the NBA Finals weren’t over a this point – this article was a Game 4 retrospective. Remember how LeBron was a choking choker who chokingly choked at every possible moment the last few years? Well now he’s a GUTSY PERFORMER:
- “Away James had gone to the bench, crumpling onto his back, cramps coursing through his legs.” [Ed. Note: Seriously, could this be any more melodramatic? Dude had a fucking cramp, this is hardly Kirk Gibson, Willis Reed, Isiah Thomas, Terrell Owens or Steve Yzerman suffering, this was a few minutes in one game.]
- “This wasn’t Willis Reed or Isiah Thomas. He simply had cramps. Nevertheless, this was still the framing of a moment for LeBron James.” [Ed. Note: Oh. NM then.]
- “There’s a process to the passage of champions, and Westbrook and Kevin Durant are merely starting out on it. For James, he’s close to completing his championship journey.”
Keep in mind we are barely a month removed from the Heat being declared dead against the Pacers, Celtics and prematurely against the Thunder – NOW James is close to completing his journey? Last year, when he was up 2-0 against Dallas, was he close then, or did our man Woj predict the ensuing four-game collapse too?? Is the entire point of sports to write revisionist history about players simply when a journalistic due date deems it appropriate?
All too often, sadly, the answer is yes.
Look, the point here isn’t to pick specifically on Adrian Wojnarowski – he’s just one of countless others who deserve just as much criticism, if not more. The point is to hold people accountable for their actions and thoughts while events are unfolding. I know it’s not a sexy approach to sportswriting, but if we’d all held off on collective knee-jerk reactions to ~60 days of playoff action, to avoid the rote, easy talking points, I think we’d all be better off.
But seriously: If the Thunder don’t win the NBA title next year, can we just kill them already?
Edit: It has come to my attention that, in the fourth article, Woj describes LeBron’s jumper as lazy, not Durant’s. Which is all well and good, except this is actually probably worse, since he spends that ENTIRE paragraph talking about LeBron’s clutch play late in the game….only to crucify the guy for missing one jump shot. If LeBron hits that shot, he’s a warrior hero. If he “drives to the rim” and misses a shot, then he’ll get hammered for not being defensively-minded in a one-possession game. I will reiterate: dude CANNOT win with the media.