Brian Windhorst has been a constant of ESPN's coverage of the NBA Playoffs and NBA Finals. Screen grab: ESPN’s ‘First Take’

I can’t quite think of an NBA player to compare Brian Windhorst’s recent rise to stardom during the NBA Playoffs to.

Is there a player who’s been in a league for more than 20 years and on the same team for the past 14 who’s always been consistently good, only to see his greatness shine through on basketball’s biggest stage?

Probably not.

But if there was — and if Windhorst was feeling not-so-humble — he would probably be the person to find the comparison.

While these NBA Playoffs — and particularly the Finals — have been somewhat lackluster, Windhorst has made the most of his opportunities — and then some. Outside of the usual cast that comprises NBA Countdown, perhaps no member of the ESPN roster has been more front and center for the network’s coverage than the senior NBA writer, who has been a constant on its morning shows, postgame shows and seemingly everywhere in between.

It hasn’t been uncommon for basketball fans to go to bed after watching Windhorst discuss an NBA Finals game that just happened with Scott Van Pelt on the late-night (and sometimes early-morning) SportsCenter, only to wake up with him already live on the aptly named Get Up. He’s also been a fixture on First Take, as well as midday SportsCenters, NBA Today and pregame SportsCenters, in addition to hosting the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast on a near daily basis.

At this point in his career, Windhorst’s resume speaks for itself. Not only is he the foremost authority on one of the greatest players in league history, LeBron James, but he also has more than two decades of experience covering the league. Anyone who thinks the Akron, Ohio, native’s expertise are limited to LeBron simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about, as he hasn’t exclusively covered James in more than a decade (although he remains plenty plugged into the James camp).

Once one of the league’s preeminent beat writers, Windhorst doesn’t do as much writing as he used to — although he’s still managed to fill his portfolio throughout the playoffs. His archives serve as a showcase for his versatility, with stories on Jerry West’s legacy, the fallout from Dan Hurley turning down the Lakers and Jrue Holiday’s journey back to the NBA Finals.

And that’s just been this week.

Presumably, the biggest reason why Windhorst doesn’t write as often as he previously did is because he’s become indispensable on air. While there are plenty of NBA reporters with as much experience as he possesses, few — if any — have been able to combine insight, analysis and humor into a TV presence that fits just as well on a 6 p.m. SportsCenter as it does on First Take.

Windhorst can break news that drives ESPN’s slate of morning shows and also appear of those shows to debate such topics. While Adrian Wojnarowski is ESPN’s top NBA newsbreaker and Stephen A. Smith is certainly its biggest personality, Windhorst is one of the few who can coexist with both.

The 46-year-old’s rare ability to mix fact with opinion — in the best kind of way — is what makes moments like his viral rant regarding the Utah Jazz two years ago possible. It’s also why his evisceration of Luka Doncic’s Game 3 performance carried so much weight; Windhorst isn’t one to rip players, coaches or teams for attention. When he does, it’s backed by the credibility he’s established over the course of the last two decades.

Windhorst’s hard work and value clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed and it was notable to hear the way Mike Greenberg ended his final appearance on Get Up on Friday.

“I just want to say on behalf of our whole show, Wind man, you have been traveling for the last two weeks, working late nights and you set your alarm every single morning to get up with us every single day,” Greenberg said. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it. So thank you, Windy. You’re the only person I’m rooting for it to end tonight so you can go home and see your family for Father’s Day.”

Despite the sendoff, ESPN viewers didn’t have to wait long for Windhorst’s next appearance. There he was, roughly 20 minutes later, debating the topics of the day on First Take, providing the unique blend of insight and analysis that have become his calling card over the course of the last two decades and, specifically, the last two months.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.