Brian Windhorst doesn’t hide from the fact that LeBron James helped his career immensely, but their reporter-player relationship wasn’t always smooth.
Windhorst joined the latest episode of the Awful Announcing Podcast, which will be released in its entirety Friday, June 9. During the interview, Windhorst was asked about joining ESPN and moving to Miami after LeBron took his talents to South Beach, and whether there was animosity from the local journalists who were already on the Heat beat.
“There was animosity from LeBron! He was not crazy about it. He didn’t like the way EPSN handled the fallout from The Decision. He felt like he got left alone on an island there,” Windhorst said. “And he really didn’t like the idea of ESPN creating a team of people just to cover the Heat, which was kind of revolutionary at the time, and I was the lead guy on. It was pretty salty the first year.”
Windhorst, who attended St. Vincent-St. Mary High School a few years before LeBron, has covered the basketball star’s career since he was 14. Prior to The Decision, Windhorst said he had conversations with ESPN about leaving the Cleveland Plain Dealer to join the Worldwide Leader dependent on LeBron signing with Chicago or New York. A few months after LeBron went to Miami, ESPN reached back out to Windhorst with the idea of launching The Heat Index, a site devoted to daily coverage of the South Beach NBA team.
“The thing that was frustrating was that I was branded as a sycophant for going,” Windhorst recalled. “And LeBron was not giving me the time of day. If I was going to be branded a sycophant, at least I would get the benefits of being a sycophant, right? I’d be getting all the inside information and all the special access, but I wasn’t.”
Windhorst reiterated that in the grand scheme of things, receiving animosity from Cavs fans, or not gaining special access from LeBron, were just parts of the job and not things to harp over. But it’s still a notable story considering basketball fans have labeled Windhorst a LeBron sycophant throughout his career as a reporter.
“When you become a national face that covers a high profile league like the NBA, people are going to criticize you, it is part of the deal,” Windhorst said. “If I didn’t like it, I could leave ESPN.”
The tired narrative of Windhorst being a LeBron sycophant has lessened in recent years, especially with the ESPN reporter continuing to focus on covering the Eastern Conference despite James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Listen to Windhorst’s full appearance on the Awful Announcing Podcast Friday, June 9, which includes discussions on interviewing Victor Wembanyama in Paris, reporting on trade rumors, LeBron’s eventual retirement, and working with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on First Take.