The Rivalry Between Woj And Shams Really Is As Imagined
3:22 PM EDT on October 3, 2023
The many anonymous piglets who eat up NBA scoops on Twitter often like to dramatize the power struggle between ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic's Shams Charania. As each man toils to tweet out a transaction eight seconds ahead of the other, he must be picturing his nemesis—right? This collective fan fiction is funny enough, but according to Ben Strauss at the Washington Post, it's not that far off from reality.
The 54-year-old and 29-year-old reporters have history as embittered master and apprentice. When Shams was a junior in college, Woj recruited him to Yahoo Sports and schooled him in the art of the scoop. When Shams agreed to a Complex magazine profile and photo shoot, his mentor objected, seeing it as a "star turn that Woj thought was distracting from the work, according to people who were told about the incident," Strauss wrote. Sometimes an artist will discuss the tension between ego and craft; sometimes the craft in question is texting dozens of executives and agents at all waking hours in order to describe "an impasse" that "clears the way."
When Woj left for ESPN in 2017, Shams could have joined him there, but he stayed on contract at Yahoo. They became direct competitors from that day forward. Shams has since moved onto The Athletic, and Strauss described their present-day frostiness:
Now, multiple NBA reporters and officials describe their relationship as something akin to Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, the tension between them spilling across their respective galaxies. One editor said the Athletic doesn’t want Woj tweets dropped into company Slack channels because Shams doesn’t like to see them; ESPN reporters, in turn, are discouraged from tweeting Athletic stories or inviting Athletic guests onto their podcasts.
It's an eternal struggle between two potent forces, each one drawing on a vast network of contacts to find the perfect set of words to flatter CAA agent Aaron Mintz. The two also seem to abide by scoopster bushido: Neither reporter replied to multiple interview requests from Strauss, who reported out the rivalry by talking to media and league sources. While they compete for the same scraps of news, they each have their own set of loyal sources. Contrasting the two approaches, Strauss characterized Woj as a "mafia don around the league, while Shams is more of a golden retriever." Though Woj has been at it for longer, Shams's softer and more credulous angle has won him his own confidants. Where else can you find someone willing to type out that Kyrie Irving's anti-vaccine stance was about "giving a voice to the voiceless"?
Strauss's article is sharpest when describing the strange new job description that Woj and Shams have willed into existence, which probably sits closer to viral marketer or information broker than reporter:
Woj and Shams are also useful to front-office members trying to circumvent the league’s tampering rules, according to two former executives. One said he had signaled his team’s interest in a player by telling Shams, knowing he would deliver the message to a team or an agent. The reporters also know what every team and agent is up to, as well as which teams might soon have job openings, making them valuable sources themselves. Owners, one agent said, ask Woj for hiring recommendations on coaches and general managers. “You can’t have them mad at you because then you don’t have access to their information,” a former executive said.