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Woj Was the Real Star of the 2018 NBA Draft

ESPN’s scoopmaster wasn’t supposed to tip the picks during the draft. So he found a workaround.

ESPN/Ringer illustration

Fans of dumb media angst always look forward to the NBA draft. During his Yahoo! pirate phase, Adrian Wojnarowski revealed (“tipped”) the picks in advance. This year, ESPN—the network that televised the draft—commanded its TV reporters to stay silent and let the spectacle unfold. Now with Woj in the ESPN tent, Awful Announcing’s Alex Putterman reported, the idea was that Woj would join the network’s omerta. He didn’t. Tonight, the tipped picks are coming from inside the house.

To evade ESPN’s cone of silence, Woj devised a simple-but-effective form of Twitter Mad Libs. It went like this: “The [NBA team] will [verb that means pick but does not exactly say pick] [name of player] at [number of pick].” For example: “Cleveland prefers Collin Sexton with the No. 8 pick.”

As the night wore on, Woj dug ever deeper into his thesaurus. His euphemisms for “pick” included: “are locked on,” “is tantalized by,” “are enamored with,” “are unlikely to resist,” “has a laser on,” “are focused on,” “have no plans to pass on,” etc., etc. In at least one case, he gave the agency to the player: “Jaren Jackson Jr., has grown comfortable with the prospect of Memphis drafting him with [the] fourth pick …” Since Woj is known more as an information guy than a wordsmith, this represents a kind of literary flowering.

A few hours before the draft began, Woj used another strategy. He tweeted out a mock draft of the first six picks as they were “taking shape.” (Four out of six proved correct, thanks to the Hawks’ trade with the Mavericks.) This brought up an interesting question: What’s the difference between a tipped pick and a deeply sourced mock draft? Does a mock draft become a tipped pick the instant the draft begins? These are things they don’t teach you at St. Bonaventure.

Tipping picks was always the least valuable kind of scoop, since the world was about to know the information anyway. It was more a show of dominance among NBA insiders, a flexing of print muscle in a TV world, and a thumb in the eye of the Worldwide Leader. It still feels like all of those things. Before the draft began, ESPN executive Stephanie Druley told The New York Times Kevin Draper: “It’s a business decision that we’re not going to take the air out of our broadcast.”

By the end of Round 1, Woj seemed to have reverted to his old ways. Memphis was “choosing” Jevon Carter and Brooklyn would “select” Dzanan Musa, he tweeted. These are tipped picks without even the candy coating of euphemism. An ESPN executive may be unlikely to resist giving Woj a stern talking to, but I hope they are focused on letting it slide.