ESPN finally figured out how to stop getting beat by Adrian Wojnarowski: paying him. The former arch enemy of ESPN basketball reporters everywhere will become part of the Borg sometime next month.
Recode reported Monday on the move, which will have Wojnarowski leaving the basketball site he started at Yahoo—The Vertical—for ESPN sometime before next month’s NBA Draft.
Sources familiar with ESPN’s plan say Wojnarowski will begin working for ESPN in time to cover the June 22 NBA draft. I’m told the network also intends to bring aboard some of the staff of The Vertical, the NBA site Wojnarowski launched for Yahoo 2016.
An ESPN rep declined to comment; I’ve asked Wojnarowski for comment but haven’t heard back.
Woj is the biggest name in basketball media and has become the go-to source for all NBA news. He can be a vocal critic of organizations at times and also is not afraid to defend his sources to the public. The pairing with ESPN seems inevitable in hindsight — ESPN has a huge advantage with its NBA coverage given the huge check they gave the league to air its games.
While the move has been rumored for months, it does come at an odd time for The Vertical. The site is barely a year old—it was announced in late 2015 after Wojnarowski signed a new contract with Yahoo earlier that summer. Wojnarowski launched a podcast and did some video work as well, including a live NBA Draft show on Yahoo’s proprietary network that saw millions tune in.
Giving all that up leads to speculation that he will play a big part in ESPN’s draft coverage and play a big role in on-air reporting. One wonders, though, if he will be allowed to tip draft picks now that he’s part of the league’s essential draft broadcast.
That’s all very exciting for Woj and the staff he assembled at Yahoo, who likely get to join ESPN with him. It is a massive blow to Yahoo’s hoops coverage, which got a number of scoops to its name, including major league initiatives and head coaching hires. It is ironic that Woj, who broke the news of The Vertical’s creation, got scooped in his own hire at ESPN.
It’s also an uncomfortable time for many at the Worldwide Leader. News of Woj’s arrival to Bristol comes a week after ESPN went through massive layoffs to more than 100 of its on and off-air staff. Those casualties included longtime NBA reporters Mark Stein and Chad Ford, which means Woj may not be making many friends with the big decision. Those two names are now obvious replacements for Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports, but there’s no telling what will happen to The Vertical, or if it even exists without Woj running the show.
The decision to trim staff at ESPN goes well beyond the abilities of any one reporter and is a result in a much larger shift in television viewing habits and the cable television subscriber bubble. Still, the optics aren’t great—it essentially looks like ESPN fired 100 or so people to find room for one basketball reporter and its staff.
At least he didn’t make a TV show out of it, I guess.