No one remembers this now, but do you know who the first person was, back in 2010, to report that LeBron James was going to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat? It wasn't Chris Broussard. It wasn't Adrian Wojnarowski. It wasn't even LeBron himself, or any of those poor child props from the Boys & Girls Club. (Some of whom are old enough now to be recruited by John Calipari, by the way.)
It was Alan Hahn, then of Newsday, now of MSG. (Which is only slightly the same thing.) Like every other Knicks fan back in July 2010, I was furiously refreshing Twitter and Google Blog Search (which was a thing some people used back in 2010) every five minutes, desperately for information; remember, we all thought LeBron was coming to New York. And I can say with 100 percent certainty that Hahn was the first guy who had it. I was proud of him. Hahn is one of the good ones.
Hahn does mostly television and radio work in New York City now, and he's not doing much scooping on this newest round of LeBron Free Agency Derby. (For this, I suspect, he is eternally grateful.) But his case is instructive. As everyone waits to find out where LeBron James is going, where Carmelo Anthony is going, where Chris Bosh is going, we are in our usual rush to grasp onto every possible rumor as quickly as we can, terrified that if we don't get there first, somewhere else will. This is leading to unimpeded lunacy for no reason. Hahn was first with one of the biggest scoops of the last five years, a story that shook the NBA to its foundations. But because Hahn wasn't loud enough about it, nobody remembers, and nobody cares.
Here's ESPN's Chris Broussard, late on Sunday night:
Cleveland has replaced Miami as my frontrunner to land LeBron James...- Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
I'm not saying LJ to Cavs is done deal or I know 4 a fact; just my gut feeling based on many conversations I've had around this story...- Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
These convos aren't sourced enough 4 me to report as fact. But I've heard enough to believe "the wind is blowing" LJ back home. We'll see...- Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
If the tone of Broussard's tweets sounds familiar -- "gut feeling," "frontrunner," "the wind is blowing" -- it's because it's the same terminology sites like 247 Sports use when they're talking about recruiting. Those sites are driven, entirely, by speculation; once news has actually been made -- when a player actually chooses a school to attend -- the updates drop off dramatically. For these sites, the guesswork is the news. I've been checking 247Sports' "coverage" of my Illini's 2015 basketball targets for weeks, but when those players all pick a school, I'll stop. And that coverage consists almost exclusively of predictions, most of whom come from people who openly admit they have no idea, that they're just going with "gut feelings." One of my favorite 247Sports features is when someone actually reports that a player is leaning toward a certain school, all the analysts suddenly swing to that prediction and claim that school "has all the momentum." That'd be one way to put it.
That's Broussard here. Broussard -- who has a reputation for being a bit behind the news sometimes -- is basically throwing mud to the wall to see what sticks. If LeBron doesn't go to Cleveland, no one will remember what Broussard said. But if he does, Broussard made himself look like he knew something no one else did. It's a classic shell game:
LeBron to Cleveland? Called it!
LeBron to somewhere other than Cleveland? Hey, I said I didn't report it as fact.
There's precedent to this: Ask Stephen A. Smith. Four years ago, Smith, then with Fox Sports Radio, claimed that he'd heard through sources that LeBron would join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. This was at the end of a tough period for Smith. He and ESPN had parted a year earlier when his contract had ended -- and in the wake of the high-profile failure of Smith's show Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith -- and he was spending a large amount of his time on MSNBC commenting on Michael Jackson's funeral.
But Smith's LeBron "scoop" was huge for him. It re-legitimized him in the eyes of many, and with his obvious, if empty, talents for television (Tommy Craggs famously pegged him with "his sole asset is that he can be emphatic on cue"), and it allowed ESPN to pick him back up. Now he has his own show, his own commercials with Richard Sherman and his own caricature on "Saturday Night Live." ("Peeps got jokes.") Now, it didn't matter that, at the last minute, Smith started to get cold feet just a few minutes before "The Decision" aired, tweeting "Uh Oh......hearing some last minute things are unfolding. Holy #@$*. Stay Tuned!!!" All that mattered was that some mud against that wall stuck. Thus, screaming from Smith's web site minutes after James' announcement: "Stephen A. Smith boldly proclaimed that sources told him superstar LeBron James, along with Chris Bosh, would be heading to Miami to join Dwyane Wade as members of the Miami Heat. And tonight, Smith's proclamation rang true!" And now Smith is everywhere.
And at least Smith was reporting rumors! Broussard isn't even doing that: He's reporting intuition … that little bird in his stomach. He's guessing, and really hoping he's right. He's basically the opposite of Adrian Wojnarowski. The only way to beat Wojo is to just guess.
One of the fun things about writing about sports is that when you make predictions at the beginning of a sports season, no one remembers them at the end. (My Rangers-Red Sox ALCS isn't looking so hot right now.) Predictions are silly and harmless, and if we get one right, we get to crow a little bit, but not much, because there was so much more we surely got wrong.
What is happening with NBA free agency and LeBron is that people are making the same predictions they do at the beginning of the year … but in retrospect, they're calling it news. If back in September, had I picked the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl, I would be happy I got it right in February. But I wouldn't be able to claim that I reported the Seahawks won the Super Bowl five months early. I was just guessing.
That's what's happening here. We are so desperate for even the slightest sliver of information that the difference between news, rumor and good-old-fashioned-pulled-it-out-of-your-arse-ism has become impossible to detect. Chris Broussard says "the wind is blowing," and it is. It's blowing hot gas.