Brian Windhorst’s ESPN Article Wipes Detail About Stephen Silas Weeping After A Game
1:15 PM EDT on March 29, 2023
ESPN basketball insider Brian Windhorst reported Tuesday that at some point during this lost, hideous season, third-year Houston Rockets head coach Stephen Silas "broke down in tears after a game because he felt he couldn't reach his players." This anecdote soon caught on with the aggregators, who picked it up and amplified it to the hoops-reading public. An NBA head coach sobbing after a game because his players are crud feels like a juicy scoop for Windhorst, and a humiliating new career low for Silas and his awful team. Dan Feldman, writing for the premium newsletter of the Dunc'd On podcast, went so far as to say that the 2022–23 Rockets "will forever be known as the team that made their coach cry."
But the source cited by these outlets—a brief article about developments in the performance of Rockets rookie Jabari Smith Jr. published by Windhorst under a Hoop Collective headline on ESPN's website—no longer had the detail about Silas crying. Besides, news of a head coach crying after a game is not something that you would generally expect to find tucked within a little blog about a kid on a horrendous team stringing together a few encouraging performances. This was strange.
In general, Windhorst seems to enjoy semi-casually throwing out little thrilling details as asides during longer pieces of analysis, as if to highlight the abundant fruits of his exclusive insiderism. He also frequently complains when those little details are aggregated and turned into articles elsewhere. It's within the realm of possibility that he might've casually dropped in a detail about a head coach weeping after a game, in the middle of some other conversation. Thankfully, Bleacher Report's Joseph Zucker—perhaps wary of Windhorst's well-established contempt for sloppy aggregation—included a full blockquote from Windhorst's original report (emphasis mine):
"It was a rare bright spot in a first season that has been light on wins. Houston lost 18 of 19 games at one point and 11 straight games during another stretch. At one point, Silas broke down in tears after a game because he felt he couldn't reach his players. One of the team's then veterans, Eric Gordon, said in January 'there's no improvement' when summing up the state of the Rockets—not ideal for a young player trying to find positivity in early struggles."
Navigating back to the revised ESPN report, the quoted paragraph now included no mention of Silas:
"It was a rare bright spot in a first season that has been light on wins. Houston lost 18 of 19 games at one point and 11 straight games during another stretch. One of the team's then veterans, Eric Gordon, said in January "there's no improvement" when summing up the state of the Rockets -- not ideal for a young player trying to find positivity in early struggles."
Though the ESPN story appeared to have been edited at some point after publication to remove a pretty significant detail, there was initially no correction or note anywhere to be found. The likeliest explanation seemed to be that Windhorst had committed some sort of reporting error, the error was caught after publication, and someone at ESPN had quickly scrubbed it from the site without taking the time to add an acknowledgment, perhaps due to haste but also perhaps hoping that no one would notice, sparing them the embarrassment of having published an unattributed claim about an NBA head coach crying. At some point later, an editor's note was added, acknowledging the error. In a statement, an ESPN spokesperson acknowledged there was a gap between the fix and the note: "Once ESPN became aware of the error, editors corrected it in the story and a correction notice was added to the story soon thereafter."
The Silas anecdote was not the only error in Windhorst's report. In a short paragraph midway through the story, Windhorst reported that Smith Jr. was "averaging 25 points per game on 45% shooting over his past 17 games," which if true would constitute an eye-popping transformation not just into a promising talent but into one of the most productive players at his position in the league. But a quick scan of Smith Jr.'s game logs from this season shows that he has only scored 25 or more points twice all season, and only once since the All-Star break. Over his last 17 games, he has averaged 14.6 points per game, and shot about 47 percent from the floor. This Windhorst blog had not been very carefully edited.
Defector contacted ESPN Tuesday night for clarification on these points, and reached the aforementioned spokesperson, who asked for time to track down the details of what had taken place. It was after this exchange that I refreshed the Windhorst story for the first time in at least an hour, and discovered the following note had been added to the top of the blog:
Editor's note: A line in today's story about Rockets coach Stephen Silas breaking down in tears after a game this season was inaccurate. Silas got emotional at a news conference in 2021.
Then, a little over two hours later, the editor's note had been revised and expanded:
Editor's note: A line in today's story about Rockets coach Stephen Silas breaking down in tears after a game this season was inaccurate. Silas got emotional at a news conference in 2021. ... A stat for Jabari Smith Jr. has been corrected; he's averaging 14.6 points per game on 47% shooting over his past 17 games.
To address the matter further, Windhorst sent out a tweet Tuesday night:
Windhorst actually made two mistakes, but OK. The press conference in question is from two seasons ago, immediately following Houston's 20th consecutive loss amid a streak of futility that spanned more than a month. Silas was mopey and sulky to a degree that he probably regrets, yes, but he did not cry. Most importantly, the core of that year's hopeless squad was veterans John Wall, Victor Oladipo, and Christian Wood; none of the core young players on this year's team—Smith Jr., Jalen Green, and Alperen Sengun—were in the NBA back then. There's a much more recent, arguably even more embarrassing Stephen Silas press conference that could've been used to illustrate his frustrations from this season. Silas also wasn't near tears in this one, but it at least references the proper set of players:
So Windhorst evidently had a false memory of Stephen Silas crying after a game this season, inspired by a time when Silas was shell-shocked and despairing about a completely different set of players, over two years ago. The ESPN spokesperson also told Defector that Windhorst contacted Silas Tuesday night to personally apologize for the error. Defector reached out to the Rockets as well, in an effort to find out whether this erroneous allegation of professional emotional fragility drove Silas to tears.