BRIAN WINDHORST, LEBRON JAMES AND ALL THE REST

Brian Windhorst, occasionally referred to as “Windy,” is a gifted young man. A great writer. He knows how to dig and dig in deep, successfully mining for gold which makes him an excellent reporter.

The Akron Beacon Journal, his employer from 2003-’08 certainly knew it and likewise did The Plain Dealer (2008-’10) in Cleveland.

ESPN knows it.

And LeBron knew it early and often.

For better or for worse.

LeBron James that is, as if there was any question.

Somehow the two have been joined at the hip forever, unlikely as that may seem.

Windhorst moved to ESPN and to Miami in 2010 after LeBron left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time, “taking his talents to South Beach.”

Today he covers the NBA for ESPN and ESPN.com but it is clear that while he scoops his competition league-wide with interesting and real nuggets about other players and issues, his primary focus is LeBron.

Being a fellow alum of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron — although they were five years apart — surely has everything to do with it.

Windhorst, a journalism degree from Kent State University (2000) in hand, began covering LeBron during his high school playing career and moved on to the Cavs in 2003, the year that James was drafted first overall.

LeBron was the youngest player in the NBA and Windhorst was the youngest traveling NBA beat writer.

Now LeBron, he of the eight consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and Windy, broadcasting from his in-home studio in Omaha are bigger than big.

The basketball analyst nonpareil is resolute: his success is not exclusively rooted in the association with arguably the greatest player who ever lived.

Not bad coattails to ride however.

Brian Windhorst has spent the last decade-and-a-half saddled with the perception that he is nothing more than a LeBron mouthpiece fortunate enough to also call Akron his birthplace.

He is a lickspittle, a kowtower, obsequious and the ultimate sycophant, leeching onto James and covering him since “The King” was the prince, a fourteen-year-old child prodigy.

Windhorst parries this besmirchment by noting the blockbuster stories he didn’t get: “The Decision” in 2010; LeBron’s return to Cleveland in 2014 — Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated broke that one; and the opening of the I Promise School in Akron largely funded by James, this past summer.

Some lives were upended when LeBron left Cleveland for LA.

Windy’s was not; he stayed in Omaha where he has lived since 2014. An upstairs bedroom in his home on the western edge of town was converted into a makeshift television studio replete with pull-down backgrounds, professional lighting and a tripod with an iPhone attachment.

He is an NBA reporter who lives hundreds of miles away from the nearest NBA arena.

But always an eye is trained on LeBron.

He cannot shake the image of being LeBron James’ personal reporter, butler and valet. A manservant, gentleman’s gentleman and attendant. Just call him Jeeves. Or Mr. French.

He doesn’t care.

None of this seems to bother Windhorst.

He deflects the scorn and the vitriol. After he joined ESPN and decamped to Miami fans threw things at him when he returned to Cleveland and he is a frequent target of fan and player alike — Draymond Green for one — due to his weight.

All with the knowledge that he should be dead.

A rare autoimmune disorder caused him to lose half of his blood in June 2008. As fluid built and collected in his lungs doctors placed him in a medically induced coma for 22 days.

Fears of brain damage dissipated when a friend told Windhorst in the hospital that the 76ers had just signed Elton Brand to an $82 million contract.

“I was like, ‘I don’t think they have the cap space to sign that deal,’” he recalled.

“When he knew I was talking about the 76ers’ cap position, they were pretty sure I was going to be O.K.”

Instructive as this anecdote may or may not be, it goes a long way toward explaining the laid-back demeanor which helps define Windhorst.

Ambivalent if not completely removed from concerning himself with the notion that he is a LeBron lackey, Windy writes a few big pieces about James and his travails each year.

And he has written his fourth book about him, LeBron Inc.: The Making of the Billion Dollar Athlete, which was scheduled to be released on April 9th.

He has known James for two decades and Akron is a small town.

Each knows the other’s mother.

He apologizes for none of it by proudly chronicling his path from answering phones at The Beacon Journal while in high school, to freelancing for the paper while at Kent State, to working full-time there as the Cavaliers beat reporter before moving on to The Plain Dealer and then to ESPN.

He is happy to live in Omaha near his wife’s family and where she hangs her shingle practicing law, raising their 13-month-old son whom Windhorst calls, “his constant.”

Windhorst knows who he is. The rumblings of, “who’s this fat asshole on TV?” do not reverberate.

At ESPN where survival is certainly of the fittest and job status is invariably linked to the vagaries of broadcast rights, he recognizes his position.

“At the end of the day, the games are the locomotive,” he observes. “We are the boxcars on the back.”

But in his 16th year covering the league he has figured out how to do exactly what he wants.

He is a regular on “The Jump,” the network’s daytime NBA show hosted by Rachel Nichols and his words carry some serious weight among NBA fanatics.

With its 3 o’clock time slot, it offers him more exposure to the ballplayers watching and the rotating panel extends him the introduction to players with whom he may have had no prior entree.

It also gives him another forum to talk about something very strange: not having to hitch his wagon to LeBron in this year’s playoff run.

He referred to a late-season game he watched between Philly and the Bucks, already knowing that LeBron and the 2019 playoffs would not be partnering.

“It was very much like a playoff game to me and it was fun watching the back and forth. I don’t get excited about regular season games very often, I was very excited watching it…New blood, Giannis and Embiid basically going back and forth. Doing that 4 or 5 times in a series would be great.”

Continuing he said, “[LeBron’s] preparing for life after basketball and we need to prepare for life after LeBron in the playoffs. We didn’t know it was going to happen now or whether it’s short-term or one-off or long-term. But I’m excited for the prospects of new blood.”

If anything, Windhorst is a realist.

Nothing lasts forever.

He will be writing and reporting long after LeBron is through playing.

But with “The King’s” keen business sense and savvy (2% of the Liverpool Football Club through Fenway Sports Group; Beats; Kia; Coke to cite a small handful of LeBron’s phenomenally successful leveraged deals) Windy should be all set.

LeBron will see to it that his canvas is never blank.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in April 2019.]

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