Adam Schefter, Victor Wembanyama and the NBA's perception problem
After a strong run, NBA stars are now missing more games than usual. And now the NFL guys are noticing.
I remember walking onto a SportsCenter set to do a hit on the NBA news of the day when NFL titan Adam Schefter pulled me aside. This might have been 2016 or sometime around there. He knew I was the NBA analytics guy, so he pulled out one of his many cell phones and showed me his fantasy basketball team. He pointed to a name on his bench, an unknown who was still a reserve on the Denver Nuggets.
“Tom! Give me one good reason why this Nikola Jokic guy doesn’t play more,” Schefter asked with his signature energy. “He’s a stud! His per-minute stats are through the ROOF. I love this guy!”
I say all this not to brag about being on SportsCenter (okay, maybe a LITTLE) or point out that Schefter saw the Jokic glow-up before most of us did. I bring it up because Schefter is a closet NBA junkie. You wouldn’t know that because he spends 99 percent of his time covering the NFL and rarely talks about the NBA in the middle of NFL season.
But on Friday afternoon, Schefter couldn’t resist and dipped his toe in NBA waters, reposting a former colleague and NFL reporter Mike Sando’s tweet and boosted it to his 11 million followers on X.
The topic? Star availability — the NBA’s sore spot.
Woof. In the first game of a back-to-back set, Wembanyama was brilliant on Thursday in Portland, tallying 30 points, 7 blocks, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in just 24 minutes of play. There was no injury reported but earlier in the week, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wembanyama would preemptively be held out of one of the two games in Portland so he wouldn’t have to play two games in two nights.
He’s been nursing a sore ankle since rolling it on a ball boy, but Wemby looked like the best damn player in the NBA on Thursday. And now he’s resting.
As a father, I sympathize with Sando’s story here. But picking a second night of a back-to-back to invest in NBA tickets to see Wemby wasn’t the shrewdest Dad move. (He added his sons couldn’t make the Friday game because they had to work). Replies to the Sando/Schefter tweet are filled with similar stories of fans being bummed out because stars were missing in action. That story is nothing new.
Still: it stinks that Wemby isn’t playing. Wemby-Scoot 1.0 was awesome for fans.of the Rose Garden Report posted this scene before Thursday’s game:
But I find the Schefter/Sando interaction interesting for a couple reasons. One, that the NFL reporters are leading that conversation. Coming off the Christmas Day romp where the NFL generated 10x the audience the NBA did (Strauss and Ziller were spot-on), this seems like the NFL guys are dunking on the NBA and taunting Shawn Kemp on Alton Lister style.
The other angle that interests me? Wemby and the rest of the NBA stars have been playing way more than expected this season. Sando’s story, while a huge bummer, is also just a snap of bad luck considering Wembanyama has played 27 of the Spurs’ 30 games up to this point.
Be honest, if I placed the over/under on Wemby games played through Christmas at 25, you’re smashing the under. Look at the guy! And he’s playing for Pop? UNDER! But he’s been out there almost all the time. Like a bunch of stars this season.
But the honeymoon phase appears to be over.