A CNN story on Doc Rivers. A CNN story on Doc Rivers. (CNN.com.)

As of 10:30 a.m. Eastern Wednesday morning, it looks like there’s a good chance ESPN/ABC NBA analyst Doc Rivers will be the next head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. But it also looks like that move has not yet been confirmed, contrary to a “CNN Sports” report Tuesday night.

Update: TNT/Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported the deal was done at 11:24 a.m. Wednesday, with that soon followed by confirmation from Stadium/The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

But the questions about CNN’s initial report on this Tuesday, the spread of that to TNT, and the refutation of it by others (including CBS’ Bill Reiter, Haynes, Wojnarowski, and Charania), still remain. Our initial post looking at those issues continues below:

As of Wednesday morning, CNN remained the only major outlet actually saying the deal is done, with many others saying it is not. And they’ve done so with just a “CNN Staff” bylined story that was first posted digitally at 12:43 a.m. Wednesday (and later updated, but only with past comments from Rivers). Here’s how that looked in one Google News search for “Doc Rivers” at 9 a.m. ET, with even CNN corporate sibling Bleacher Report saying the deal is not yet complete:

A Google News search for "Doc Rivers" on Jan. 24, 2023.
A 9 a.m. ET Google News search for “Doc Rivers” on Jan. 24, 2023.

And at 10 a.m. ET, CNN was still out alone on that limb:

A Google News search for "Doc Rivers" at 10 a.m. ET on Jan. 24, 2023.
A Google News search for “Doc Rivers” at 10 a.m. ET on Jan. 24, 2023.

That report appears to have first been publicized in a very strange way. As per a TVEyes search for “Doc Rivers,” the first on-air mention of a done deal appears to have come from Coy Wire on a news update on NBA TV (which is owned by the NBA, but operated by CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery) at 9:54 p.m. Eastern. There, Wire (a former NFL player who works for CNN as well, currently hosting daily student-focused show CNN 10, has provided some sports-focused coverage there since 2015, and has a “CNN Sports” affiliation listed below his name on the on-screen graphic here) said “CNN has confirmed that Doc Rivers will be the new head man in Milwaukee,” which is strange wording considering that no one else had reported what CNN was supposedly “confirming”:

A minute later, at 9:55 p.m. Eastern, this went to a much wider audience with just a “CNN Sports” citation from host Adam Lefkoe on the Tuesday version of Inside The NBA on TNT (a network also owned by Warner Bros. Discovery). That came on the pregame show ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers game, the second half of the doubleheader. And that whole exchange is very strange:

Lefkoe says “Are we ready for breaking news? We have news in from CNN, they are reporting…” Shaquille O’Neal cuts him off with “From CNN?” and Candace Parker adds “Sports.” Lefkoe then continues with “From CNN Sports, that Doc Rivers has accepted the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching position. …CNN is now reporting that Doc Rivers will be the next coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.” And that was accompanied with an on-screen graphic also citing CNN:

A TNT graphic saying CNN was reporting Doc Rivers' hire.
A TNT graphic saying CNN was reporting Doc Rivers’ hire.

That caused consternation and jokes, considering the unusual source and the lack of specificity as to where this came from. CNN does have a “Sports” section on their website and does post some original digital and video pieces there from CNN staffers. And there was an impressive sports department in the early days of the network (including Sports Tonight, originally hosted by Nick Charles and Fred Hickman, which ran from 1980-2001 on the main network, and Headline Sports, with Van Earl Wright). But there really hasn’t been much of a “CNN Sports” brand in quite some while.

A week after 9/11, then-CNN parent Time Warner dropped Sports Tonight from the main network as part of an effort to “focus on news and discussion shows on CNN.” The show continued on CNN/SI, which was the 24-hour sports news network Time Warner created in 1996 around its CNN and Sports Illustrated brands, but that whole network was shut down in 2002 (and, oddly enough, replaced by NBATV on many cable systems). But the CNNSI.com website was kept, and was Sports Illustrated‘s website until 2013 (part of SI’s late standalone digital start, a factor in their current issues), when Time Warner spun off their publishing assets into Time Inc. and bought Bleacher Report to serve as their digital sports presence.

Of course, there has been some sports content on CNN in the last couple of decades. That’s included CNN staffers with sports backgrounds like Wire doing specific segments on sports, a few specific sportsy shows (including the 201314 Unguarded with Rachel Nichols and the current King Charles with Charles Barkley and Gayle King), some contributors brought in specifically for sports (including Hines Ward and Lindsay Czarniak), and some discussion of sports issues from CNN news personalities (many of whom are notable sports fans).

But any reporting or analysis from those figures has carried their names. And that’s certainly what you’d expect to see on a story this big. It would be surprising to see sports news on this scale broken by a CNN news figure such as Jake Tapper rather than a NBA insider like Adrian Wojnarowski or Shams Charania (who had their own reporting dispute on Rivers earlier in the day Tuesday), but news can break from unusual places.

And it’s believable that a CNN news personality (and maybe even Wire) might have inside contacts with Rivers or the Bucks that could make for a scoop. But it’s bizarre to think that the personality then wouldn’t want to take individual credit for that. And it’s also bizarre that CNN wouldn’t do any mentions of this level of scoop on their own platforms; they didn’t put up a story on their website until 12:43 a.m. ET, they didn’t tweet anything from their CNNSport account until 3:36 a.m. ET, and they hadn’t mentioned this on air at all through 10 a.m. ET Wednesday. And when this report was repeated and just cited as “CNN Sports” again on TNT’s postgame show hours later (12:24 a.m. Eastern Wednesday), even panelist Jamal Crawford seemed skeptical of it:

That skepticism may have been justified. Before that, there had been many refutations of a deal being done by NBA insiders outside of WBD and TNT Sports, including CBS’ Bill Reiter and ESPN’s Wojnarowski. And one refutation from inside the TNT Sports house came from Bleacher Report NFL insider Jordan Schultz, who even put that in a quote-tweet of the initial TNT discussion:

An even more prominent dispute of the “CNN Sports” report came just a minute after that 12:24 a.m. discussion on TNT, when TNT/Bleacher Report NBA insider Chris Haynes (who had been the sideline reporter on the Lakers-Clippers game, and had just thrown to the studio) tweeted that the deal wasn’t yet done (despite Bleacher Report’s account previously tweeting out the CNN Sports report):

Despite all this, though, CNN sources defended their scoop to A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports and Kevin Draper of The New York Times:

In a thread on this, Draper offered a couple of theories: a NBA TV pre-write that accidentally became news rather than confirmation, and a potential connection to Rivers’ agency, Atlanta-based CSE:



There’s not yet confirmation of any of what happened here. And it’s quite possible that Rivers will still wind up as the Bucks’ coach. But even if that does happen, reporting that something is done when it was not yet done at that point is a problem, and the preponderance of evidence sure seems to suggest the deal is not currently done. And if this does fall through somehow and Rivers is not the next Bucks’ coach, CNN (and potentially WBD overall) is going to have a lot of egg on their face. In an era when people will seize on any excuse to shout “Fake news” at that network, that may be a true criticism on this limited front if Rivers doesn’t land in Milwaukee.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.