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Adrian Wojnarowski gets around ESPN edict, drops plenty of ‘Woj bombs’ during NBA draft

Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., posing with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, got it started for Adrian Wojnarowski with the fourth pick. (Kevin Hagen/Associated Press)

Remember how ESPN’s reporters, including uber-insider Adrian Wojnarowski, had been instructed not to leak their scoops on upcoming picks during Thursday’s NBA draft? If not, here’s a very recent headline:

Well, as it turned out there were, indeed, some “Woj bombs” dropped. In fact, the draft was more or less carpet-bombed by tweets from Wojnarowski, alerting his social-media followers to upcoming selections in apparent defiance of the reported edict by ESPN, which was televising the draft and presumably preferred for its employees to not spoil the suspense.

Friday, ESPN indicated Woj isn’t in any kind of trouble for finding a workaround.

“Woj excelled last night,” said the network in a statement. “He was on top of every draft-related development. We saw again why he and our coverage team is the best in the business. We expanded our efforts last night and we look forward to working with the NBA to further grow this property next year.”

Wojnarowski has an excellent defense. Strictly speaking, he never actually said any team would, in fact, definitely select a given player.

Rather, Wojnarowski resorted to an increasingly amusing ruse in which he connected specific players to specific teams at specific draft slots but used language just indefinite enough to leave, oh, about 0.00000001 percent of uncertainty whether his insights would be borne out. He gave a sign of things to come with his first tweet revealing a pick, when he said of the upcoming fourth selection, “Memphis is locked in on selecting Jaren Jackson Jr., league sources tell ESPN.”

From there, it was just a matter of waiting to see what kind of phrasing Wojnarowski would use — you know, as opposed to actually waiting to hear who would be announced from the podium at Barclays Center. Here is how it unfolded, after the veteran reporter essentially scooped the fifth pick by letting the world know that Trae Young would be the other player in a trade involving Luka Doncic, whom the Hawks picked third, and the Mavericks, who were sitting at five.

  • “Orlando is focused on selecting Texas center Mo Bamba with the sixth pick”
  • “Chicago is zeroing in on Wendell Carter with the seventh overall pick”
  • “Cleveland prefers Collin Sexton with the No. 8 pick”
  • “Sixers are targeting Villanova’s Mikal Bridges with No. 10″

And so it went for Wojnarowski’s scoops as he trotted out phrases such as “is determined to select,” “are fixated on” and “has a laser on.” As the first round got into its later stages, he appeared to be having some genuine fun with his wording, tossing out these gems:

  • “The Lakers are unlikely to resist Mo Wagner with the 25th pick”
  • “The Sixers are enamored with Landry Shamut at the 26th pick”
  • “Boston is tantalized by Robert Williams with the 27th pick”

Meanwhile, in response to a question from The Post about whether it had authorized Wojnarowski’s scoop-happy tweeting, all ESPN had to say was, “We have no comment at this time.” Less stoic was NBA Twitter, which was enjoying every moment of his linguistic loophole exploitation.

Wojnarowski wasn’t the only NBA insider scooping picks on social media, of course. Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, which had also reportedly agreed to have its staff refrain from doing so, joined the fray. Some speculated that Wojnarowski only began doing so after seeing the New York Times’ Marc Stein steal what has been for years very much his thunder.

Evidence for that line of thinking could be found in the fact that Wojnarowski and Charania did not begin tipping the picks until three were already off the board — all of whom had been revealed ahead of time by Stein. Adding a layer of intrigue was the fact that, shortly before last year’s draft, ESPN hired Wojnarowski away from Yahoo Sports — after it included Stein in a wave of high-profile layoffs.

On Tuesday, an NBA spokesman had said, “We spoke with our media partners about our preference that ESPN’s exclusive broadcast rights be honored, but each organization will make its own editorial decisions.” Wojnarowski seemed to make his own, personal editorial decision, leading more than a few to conclude with a shrug, “Woj gonna Woj.”

After all, Wojnarowski first made a name for himself as having a direct pipeline to NBA decision-making during the 2011 draft, when he gave his Twitter followers the scoop on numerous picks. His uncanny ability to break league news at every other time of year as well left ESPN executives frustrated and, ultimately, willing to give him top dollar to secure his services.

In that sense, ESPN got exactly what it paid for Thursday. In retrospect, asking Wojnarowski not to do what he does best during the draft was like expecting the NBA’s newest players to dress for the event in staid, conventional outfits — it just was not going to happen.

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