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How the Lakers Head Coach Search Changed Sports Journalism

Credit: Rich Eisen Show on YouTube

The Los Angeles Lakers head coaching search has been intriguing for many reasons.

If you’re a fan of the Lakers, you want to see what the future of your beloved basketball franchise looks like. If you are a fan of a rival team, you want to see what your competition will look like.

Maybe you’re an observer of the league, and you know that precedent is about to change, as it often does when the Lakers hire a coach. But even if you are any person willing to participate in society today, there is an angle from which this search should intrigue you: the reporting of it. 

Reporting Rivalries

Shams Charania – Credit: ESPN on YouTube

The journalism involved in sports reporting is competitive and volatile.

It is competitive in the sense that reporters work to break stories before other reporters. It is volatile in the sense that fans depend on the news, and gamblers and sports-books really depend on the news. In efforts to grow the league, the NBA has let these categories overlap. 

The context of the situation is that since the Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Darvin Ham at the end of their short playoff run, the reporting on their next head coach had been public and one-sided for a long time.

Most of the reporting was coming from reliable NBA reporter Shams Charania, who reports for Stadium and the Athletic. It is noteworthy that while he does not report for them, Charania is a partner with FanDuel sports-book. 

The reporting on the Lakers’ next head coach became more and more Redick-focused, with lots of the reporting coming from Charania. This saga culminated with this report on June 4: Charania on June 4:

It seemed like JJ Redick, co-host of a podcast with Lebron James, was next in line to coach the superstar. Then, on June 6, ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski asserted that University of Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley was the favorite for the job: 

After weeks of hinting at Redick becoming the next head coach of the Lakers, Wojnarowski upended all of Shams’ reporting. It is notable that Wojnarowski is close to the Hurley family and has more experience in gathering sources around the league. But he wasn’t done, reporting on June 10 that Hurley had turned down the Lakers job in favor of a contract extension at UConn: 

What are the Odds?

All of this and Hurley doesn’t even take the job.

With the recent boom in sports gambling, there are all kinds of betting options for people looking for some action. You can bet on draft picks, free agent signing destinations, overs, unders, player totals on nearly any statistics. Oh, and there are odds on the Lakers head coaching search.

Those odds took quite the swing when Wojnarowski reported that someone who was previously thought to be excluded from the search became the clubhouse favorite. What’s more is that Wojnarowski reported that JJ Redick was never considered a serious candidate. It seemed that the Lakers were doing due diligence by considering him for the job. 

To be clear, I am in no way insinuating that Shams Charania was reporting falsely, nor trying to juice odds for the sportsbook that employs him. Charania wrote his report for the Athletic, not for FanDuel.

Plus, JJ Redick could still end up being the next Lakers Head Coach. I am simply illustrating the danger in the partnership between leagues, reporters, and sportsbooks having the relationship that they currently do.

For weeks, JJ Redick has been the betting favorite based on reporting from a man who works for a sportsbook. Then, one report drops from a source closer to the situation and things shift dramatically.

The NBA is living dangerously with these kinds of events. Their offseason is often more entertaining than the regular season as of late, and they have leaned in.

Looking Forward…

Adrian Wojnarowski – Credit: ESPN on YouTube

We live in a world becoming increasingly disillusioned by a war between true and false. The lines in between them have been blurred.

Sports was supposed to be the place where reporting seemed black and white. Teams win or lose. Players sign with one team for a specific dollar amount.

But now fans have a thirst for more information.

There is reporting on candidate searches rather than just saying who got the job when the time comes. Then there is the small factor of people gambling their own money based on the reporting that is out there, and sports-books adjusting odds accordingly. 

There are new players at the table with a vested interest in the audience being… uncertain? Some of those players are the audience themselves, but the main issue here is the sportsbooks being in bed with the leagues.

Of course, this is an entertainment product and there is money there to be made by the league and sportsbooks. In the end, this might all come to nothing.

Charania and Wojnarowski are both considered reliable reporters around the league, both experienced in breaking major stories. They are important to the NBA, but their competition could end up hurting the product and possibly the fans. 

It just seems that this is another effort by the NBA to drum up drama and create buzz (gambling buzz specifically) wherever they can find it. For perhaps the first time, this is the kind of drama NBA fans may feel they can do without.

It feels manipulative that there has to be all of this reporting before anything concrete actually happens. The NBA is walking a tightrope, and their need for constant breaking-news-reporting might cause them to lose balance. 

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