ESPN’s Celebrity Journos: Proficiency, Interrupted

If you asked NBA observers about Michael Jordan’s legacy as a league executive, most would first chuckle and then say it’s a good thing he’s now an owner.

Michael Wilbon, Rick Reilly, Tony Kornheiser

Apparently not Jordan friend Michael Wilbon though. On ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption yesterday, he responded to co-Host Dan Le Batard calling Jordan a “pretty terrible executive” thusly:

I know Michael wanted to be an owner. Not a GM. A GM is not what he’s signing up for.”

When one broaches Jordan’s front office aptitude the past decade, the conversation cannot avoid his astonishingly incompetent performance. In disregarding that, Wilbon did a disservice to his credibility as an NBA analyst. But the PTI host is far from the first media member to allow a personal relationship with a subject color his on-air conduct.

Though the irony of ESPN’s highest profile, old school journalists is that the more famous they become, the less reliable their resulting work. Work that also largely pales next to their pre-ESPN resume.

Wilbon may believe what he’s saying, but clearly becoming a celebrity himself has impaired his judgement. You could say the same about Wilbon PTI co-Host Tony Kornheiser, who is famous friends with Redskins Owner Dan Snyder. Kornheiser has admitted on-air that he’s eschewed the FedEx Field press box for Snyder’s luxury suite.

So when it comes to criticizing perhaps the Redskins’ most inept owner of all-time, Kornheiser, like Wilbon with Jordan, generally resists. And even if Kornheiser had a provocative opinion about Snyder, would you believe him?

Consider that Wilbon and Kornheiser have intimate access to two of the most fascinating sports figures of our time, yet all ESPN viewers get to that end is mostly what celeb-bereft sports media outlets report. Along with occasional ‘opposite day’ analysis. (See Wilbon-Jordan.)

I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable to say that I’d happily swap out the present-day iteration of Kornheiser and Wilbon for when they ground it out daily at the WASHINGTON POST.

Same goes for Rick Reilly. His insight, hustle and wordwork during his glory days at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED made him the closest thing sports journalism has ever had to a rockstar. (Though more Rivers Cuomo than Bono.)

How did Reilly use that fame? To advance his own celebrity, which included buddying-up to Tiger Woods. That in turn resulted in Reilly rolling over for the golfer on ESPN afer Woods’ wooden sorrowfest.

Bill Simmons roasts Rick Reilly over Tiger speech reax

Kornheiser, Wilbon and Reilly also have something else in common.

All three no longer do enough of what they truly do best: Write.

You would think these guys would embrace what they’re most proficient at, but instead we get Kornheiser muddying up Monday Night Football, Reilly somehow sending the ever-sturdy SportsCenter into a ditch and Wilbon hangin’ with adult film performers.

If it wasn’t for the “redonkulous” money, all three would’ve invested in a career GPS long ago.

Obviously I can’t blame the trio for yielding to the trappings of celebrity. Most of us would do the same. (More money to work less? And the work is easier? Hell yeah!)

But wouldn’t an occasional, genuine hat tip from them to their productive pasts be appropriate?