King of NBA News Breakers: Woj vs. Shams
If you could only follow one NBA Twitter account for breaking news for the rest of your life, who would it be?
Bird/Magic, Shaq/Kobe, Retired Charles Barkley/Cheeseburgers. There have been some great rivalries throughout NBA history. In the past couple years, another one has emerged that is shaping up to be one of the greatest of all-time. Every summer, these two go head to head to determine which one is the best in the league. I’m not talking about LeBron vs Durant. I’m talking about the battle of NBA news breakers.
For years, Adrian Wojnarowski (or Woj) has been the undisputed king of breaking NBA news. He’s dropped more bombs on the league than Steph Curry. Even though ESPN is the “worldwide leader in sports”, Woj would consistently beat ESPN’s vast team of sportswriters to nearly every important scoop. In 2017, ESPN pulled a Warriors and signed Woj to their existing super team in hopes of creating a news breaking dynasty.
What they didn’t expect was a challenger to Woj’s throne to emerge: Woj’s own protégé, 24-year-old Shams Charania. Shams started at Yahoo in 2015 and has quickly ascended the NBA news breaker hierarchy under the tutelage of the master. Once student and teacher, these two have become one another’s chief rival on the NBA news cycle. But, who’s truly the king of NBA news breakers?
On NBA Twitter, there’s a growing faction that seems to believe that Shams has finally overtaken Woj, but I’m not so sure. It feels like when NBA contrarians doubt LeBron’s chances in the East every year, but at the end, he’s always the last one standing. I decided to take a look at the offseason thus far (and their nickname potential) to see if there’s any merit to the “Shams over Woj” hot takes.
You’ve all seen the memes of Woj and Shams dunking on one another. Well, the NBA news breaker equivalent of a dunk contest is the NBA draft. It doesn’t really matter as much in the broader context of the game (you’re going to find out the picks within 5 minutes of any tweet), but it’s a great way to show off and win bragging rights.
Before the draft started, there was a gentleman’s agreement not to tip picks (which is the equivalent of agreeing only to shoot layups in the dunk contest.) Woj was especially hamstrung by the fact that the agreement was facilitated by his employee, ESPN, in an attempt to maximize the draft’s TV ratings (which is the equivalent to being 5’3’’ in the dunk contest). Shams got off to a hot start, however, by the third pick in the draft, Woj said screw the rules and it was on.
Throughout the first round, Woj and Shams were matching each other dunk for dunk. Their tweets would come out within mere seconds of each other. By my calculations, Shams barely edged out Woj 25 picks to 23 (including trades). Then, Shams dominated the undrafted free agent portion 10 to 1 in the hours after. However, Woj is a crowd pleaser and performs best when the lights are brightest; he announced 7 of the first 10 picks.
So, Shams was technically sound the whole night (_______ will draft ______ with the __ pick in the NBA draft). He displayed an impressive array of windmills and 360s. Woj, on the other hand, didn’t make as many dunks, but the ones he did throw down had a lot more flair. He jumped over three fans while going in between the legs:
Then, he threw it off the backboard, caught it behind his back and threw it down all while eating a cupcake.
Finally, he wore a Spiderman outfit while swinging from a web attached the scoreboard, did a front flip, and caught an alley-oop from Donovan Mitchell:
Shams may have made more dunks that night, but Woj was just more entertaining which is the point of a dunk contest. The fact that he had to use such creative language made his reporting even more impressive (just like dunking is more impressive when you’re 5’3’’). Shams was perfect in his execution all night, but everyone is going to remember what Woj did that night.
In order to be considered a superstar in this league, you have to perform when it matters, the playoffs. For an NBA news breaker, free agency is their postseason. The first few hours of July 1st are a frenzy of teams and players “having agreed in principle”. Even though deals can be agreed upon on July 1st, they aren’t finalized for a week. It’s not like trade deadline when the news becomes verified within hours or the draft when it becomes verified in minutes. News breakers are able to announce free agent signings up to a week before they become officially announced by the team.
This is where Woj and Shams eat. While a Marc Stein or a Chris Hayes will break a story here or there, over 2/3 of the scoops come from Shams and Woj. I imagine that having the alerts on for Woj and Sham tweets on July 1st is what it feels like to be a popular person on their birthday; their phones are just constantly buzzing. I used @BlazersBySagar’s amazing free agent tracker as the basis for my analysis.
Being the top news breaker is more than just the sheer number of scoops. It’s also about breaking stories that most NBA fans will care about. So, in addition to counting each person’s signings announced, I looked at the win shares and contract of each player. It’s a simplified way to determine the relative importance of each signing but, generally, a bigger contract and more win shares correlates to a higher profile player. Here’s a breakdown free agency thus far (up until July 11th):
According to this table, Woj is currently winning this free agent period, and it’s not that close. Not only does he have more signings, but the ones he has announced have averaged a whole half win more than Shams’. While Shams’ announcements were worth more on average money-wise, that can be attributed to the greater of number signings announced by Woj (after a certain point the only contracts being signed are near-minimum deals). It should be noted that on a few occasions (Rondo, Nurkic, Rose) Woj broke the story first without contract details, and Shams swooped in minutes later with those details. These occasions aren’t enough, though, to sway this category in Shams’ favor.
Both of these guys have names that are non-traditional, so they were destined for nicknames. I refuse to refer to any Shams tweet as a “Sham-wow” (unless it’s a tweet that is used to clean up and correct an erroneous “Woj bomb” that detonated too early. Then, it fits.) Instead, I’ll be comparing Wojnarowski’s signature “Woj bombs” to my nickname for Shams, “the ShamGod”.
Now, it may not seem like it’s not close. You would think a ShamGod could easily dismantle a Woj Bomb, but coolness factor isn’t the only criteria for a good nickname. For instance, the Shawn Marion’s nickname, “The Matrix” is objectively cooler than LeBron’s “King James”, but I would argue that King James is a better nickname. “The Matrix” is age-dependent, based on the freaky athletic things Marion could do in his younger days. “King James” is a testament not only to his status as the league’s best player but as one of the best of all time. It is also seamless enough that use you can use it interchangeably with his name. Calling Marion, “The Matrix” is just a bit too clunky.
I think ShammGod and Woj Bomb fit with that dynamic. Even though I’d rather be called a ShammGod than drop Woj Bombs, I still prefer Woj’s “nickname” to Sham’s. “Woj bomb” is so entrenched within the lexicon of the NBA that you gotta put respeck on his name. In a primarily monotheistic country, it’s tough to let Shams wield the nickname “ShammGod” while Wojnarowski still rules the game. Shams needs to earn it. He’s only 24, so he’s well on his way to doing that. If (or when) he does take the top spot away from Woj, the ShammGod nickname shall be bestowed upon him and declared the best NBA news breaker nickname of all time.
Slight Edge: Woj (for now)
There is no doubt that Shams has closed the gap between Woj and the rest of the NBA’s news breakers. However, I think anyone that thinks Shams has claimed the top spot over Woj should pump the brakes. It’s truly impressive what Shams has been able to accomplish all before his 25th birthday. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before the student becomes the master. But, for now, Woj still sits comfortably atop the NBA news breaker hierarchy. Shams’ contract with Yahoo is up next month. Wherever he signs is going to have a lasting impact on how their rivalry plays out for the rest of their careers (I wonder who will break this story first). There is a chance that ESPN pulls another Warriors and makes Shams their DeMarcus Cousins essentially creating a monopoly for NBA scoops. I hope not. Or else the offseason is going to become as non-competitive as the actual season.