It’s no secret that NBA reporters have rivalries and beefs, but this week, former ESPN NBA editor Henry Abbott publicly attacked today’s NBA insiders in an interview with the Washington Post.
“The role of the media is to police the powerful,” Abbott told the Post. “They have to kiss the a — of the powerful: ‘Please text me first when you’re making a trade.’ You’re begging for scraps. They confine their insight into the league to these transactions, which are the cotton candy of news. We miss the doping and the money laundering and everything else that’s happening in the NBA.”
The Damian Lillard saga this summer in the NBA showed how insiders like ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Turner’s Chris Haynes and The Athletic’s Shams Charania have become part of the negotiation process.
And certainly Abbott has a point. Other NBA reporters acknowledged to the Post that stories like Ime Udoka’s dimissal from Boston a year ago (which Woj peculiarly glossed over) or the NBA suspension of Ja Morant (which ESPN responded to with a softball interview) fall by the wayside when key NBA reporters focus on transaction content over genuine journalism.
Insiders today are largely content creators for their media conglomerate executive bosses versus stalwarts of any sort of sports fourth estate.
Still, Abbott’s bias has to be acknowledged. He ran NBA coverage at ESPN when the company was at its most financially strong and creatively experimental. His department developed smart, nuanced interactive data visualization, longform storytelling, and a unique audio network. Prior to that, Abbott ran the TrueHoop Network, a collection of brilliant, goofy basketball blogs, for ESPN.
ESPN shut down TrueHoop when it hired Woj.
The business probably necessitates that both kinds of content exist. Appealing to just diehards can’t fuel a profit for a huge company like ESPN, but appealing to just casuals who want news nuggets harms the environment around the league.
Either way, it’s surprising to see a prominent figure like Abbott publicly decry his colleagues in NBA media.