“O.K., are we ready for breaking news?”
That’s how Tuesday night’s Doc Rivers saga began—a saga that, 12 hours later, was still unfolding. After discussing the New York Knicks’ victory over the Brooklyn Nets, NBA on TNT’s Adam Lefkoe posed the question, then continued: “Um, we have news in from CNN, they are reporting—”
“From CNN?!” Jamal Crawford questioned from across the desk.
Lefkoe and Candace Parker clarified—CNN Sports had the news—and Lefkoe announced: “Doc Rivers has accepted the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coaching position.”
The weird part? CNN Sports, an unlikely source to break that big of an NBA story—or any sports story—hadn’t yet posted the news anywhere.
Let’s back up. Earlier in the day, the Bucks let go of head coach Adrian Griffin, who had been hired this summer to replace 2020-21 championship-winning coach Mike Budenholzer after Milwaukee’s early exit from the playoffs. The franchise brought in Rivers as an informal consultant to Griffin around the time of the In-Season Tournament, and after Griffin’s release he became a frontrunner for the lead role, according to The Athletic.
Which brings us to Tuesday night, when Crawford wasn’t the only person perplexed by the source of the news. Across X, the question echoed: How did CNN Sports get the news over the usual suspects, like ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who works at the same network as Rivers, or The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who co-authored the earlier story about Rivers and the Bucks?
When the news broke, CNN Sports had nothing about Rivers’s hiring on its website or social media pages. It’s worth noting that CNN, The NBA on TNT, and Bleacher Report, which quickly tweeted out the news, are all owned by Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD).
Kevin Draper of The New York Times, meanwhile, tweeted his own theory: Perhaps, he suggested, the news had been pre-written but accidentally read on-air when it was announced an hour earlier on NBA TV (which is also operated by WBD but reaches a much smaller audience), then sent over to the more widely-followed NBA on TNT. (Shortly after that, around 11:30 p.m. ET, two WBD Sports sources told Front Office Sports’ A.J. Perez that CNN had “fully-vetted” the news before passing it to TNT and that the news likely wasn’t on CNN’s website or social media platforms because of the network’s ongoing coverage of the GOP primary in New Hampshire.)
Even later, at 12:25 a.m., TNT and Bleacher Report insider Chris Haynes, citing league sources, tweeted that Rivers and the Bucks were working toward a deal—but that they had not yet agreed to one. … After which CNN doubled down on its reporting, finally publishing a story (citing “a source with knowledge of the conversation”) at 12:43 a.m., reiterating that Rivers had accepted the position. Adding to the mystery, that story was attributed to “CNN Staff.” … And less than five minutes later, the official X account of NBA on TNT confirmed Haynes’s reporting: no deal yet. CNN has not responded to FOS requests for comment.
Meanwhile, all the talk about the Bucks raises questions about Rivers’s role with ESPN, where he currently broadcasts as part of a three-person NBA booth, alongside play-by-play commentator Mike Breen and analyst Doris Burke. ESPN sources told FOS’s Mike McCarthy on Wednesday morning that if Rivers left, the network would likely pivot to a two-person team rather than replace Rivers, though JJ Reddick and Richard Jefferson are under consideration to take Rivers’s spot. Many at the network, according to those sources, feel that Burke has earned the right to be the sole analyst on the top broadcast team, which would make her the first woman to call the NBA Finals as the lead game analyst. (ESPN declined to comment to FOS on Rivers’s broadcast situation.)
To recap: Massive news from an unlikely place, which was then denied by reporting from someone at the same parent company but doubled-down on by the original outlet.
To quote Draper, referencing the original NBA on TNT reaction: “We are all Jamal Crawford here.”
… And, in the end, Wojnarowski and Shams each confirmed Rivers to the Bucks around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, and all again felt right in the NBA world.