Why the move to ESPN?
Windhorst: They approached me a few months ago and it really took awhile for them to figure out what the vision of this thing was going to be. I really didn't know if I wanted to go. Regardless of what people think, it wasn't a snap decision. It wasn't like it's easy to leave your home and it's not like we're going to be welcomed with open arms in Miami. There's a lot of acrimony that surrounds that beat right now, a lot of negativity. It wasn't an easy decision. It took ESPN making a historical commitment from a national outlet to a team to do this. They're really doing something here they've never done before, and I believe the interest in that team is going to be higher than the interest in any NBA team in history. Whether they end up holding that interest for more than a couple years is yet to be determined.
It had to be a really attractive offer to leave. I told the people at the Plain Dealer this, that there's probably no other newspaper job in the country I would leave for. I was that happy in Cleveland. I got great support there, so it had to be a really special opportunity. I had other offers come up that I bypassed, and it really took being part of something special to leave. But it's also something I stewed over.
Are you worried at all about Heat overload on that Heat page with ESPN's blitz of coverage?
Windhorst: It definitely has to be dealt with. For as much difficulty as there is, you can't deny the interest, even at the PD. Stories about LeBron James get huge amounts of traffic on the website. Commenters say, "Why are you running these stories?" and the comments are negative in general, but the hit numbers show people do care. And nationally, the hit numbers at ESPN and the viewer ratings convinced them people really do care. We're going to take criticism for the level of coverage, and whether or not we make anybody happy or not, we're responding to the desire in the market. We'll see if it works. We think it will. We think the interest will meet the demand.
People in Cleveland seem to really love your work and are taking this a little personally.
Windhorst: It was a really hard decision. My preference would have been to continue to cover the Cavs like the last two years with LeBron on it. Last year I tried to report as down the middle as I could. I tried to report as many facts as I could. There were so many others offering their opinions on the situation. I personally wish the facts were that he resigned. I think there's a collection of great people at the Cavs organization who have taken opportunities outside the organization once LeBron moved on. I think everyone should realize how special the situation was over the last few years. I'm not moving on because I don't think the Cavs will be an interesting story. I'm moving on because I think there's a story that supersedes them. I can't envision a job I would have taken besides this one. You have to be careful making absolute statements, but I've interviewed with the New York Times, I've interviewed at Yahoo! and other internet sites, but I really can't say for sure I would have taken any other job offered to me besides the offer to join ESPN.
I'm really appreciative of the people that enjoyed my work and I know this upsets a lot of them. But I have a lot of family in South Florida and I've had real estate in South Florida for the last four years. It's a business decision as well as a personal one. It's not just to follow LeBron. I know people won't believe that, but I'm covering the Heat. Obviously LeBron's a huge factor in that, but it's not like I'm just going to some city I don't have ties to.
What do you think it's going to be like December 2?
Windhorst: I really hope that the Cavs let the fans have their say and don't edge them along. The team doesn't need to have the reputation of being vindictive; they need to move on. I hope the fans do it and get over it, because if you do something to give the city a black eye, you're only hurting yourself in the long run — making yourself look bad and swinging national sympathy LeBron. Maybe they don't care about that. Let them know what you think. You don't have to be respectful, but you have to keep in mind what your reputation is. The Cavs are going to have decades more of playing basketball here, and you have to keep that in mind. I hope the fans voice their displeasure, but I hope it doesn't turn into something of a black mark for the city.