1. Mark Pain, sports photographer, Mail on Sunday (U.K.): Along with creating one of the most memorable images in recent history -- Tiger Woods shanking a ball during the Ryder Cup directly into his camera -- Pain also created a global phenomenon thanks to a mustachioed mystery man with a cigar in the background of his photo. The famed face in the crowd -- now identified as 30-year-old South London-based investment analyst Rupesh Shingadia -- created a Photoshopping sensation worldwide and entered the phrase "Cigar Guy" into our lexicon. How did the photographer land the shot? Click here for Pain's interview with CBS' The Early Show.
2. Brian Anderson, TBS broadcaster: The star of the baseball postseason so far (excluding Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay) has been Anderson, the television play-by-play announcer for the Brewers since 2007 and an understated game-caller. His call of Halladay's no-hitter last Wednesday was exceptionally good, and history will judge him kindly for going silent following the final out.
"My plan was to call the play and shut up," Anderson said by phone last week. "I wanted the audience to be able to feel that moment as opposed to feeling me covering up the moment. I was happy that I didn't have the ego to want to talk through it. And it's one thing to say it philosophically; it's another thing to actually believe you can hold it back. You want to scream and yell and talk and filibuster and have all these poetic sayings, but it doesn't need it on television. All it requires is to step back."
3. Brian Windhorst, ESPN NBA reporter: Like LeBron James, Windhorst has taken his talents from Cleveland to South Beach. The former Plain Dealer writer will cover national NBA stories for ESPN but said his central role will be to contribute to the Heat Index, the much-talked-about microsite within ESPN.com. (TheBoston Globe's Chad Finnprovides some nice details on ESPN's thinking.)Like LeBron, Windhorst has also been torched in some corners of the Web (mostly in Cleveland) for abandoning his old town. "I was ridiculed and heckled in public regularly for the last week, not to mention blasted via the Web in various forms," Windhorst said in an e-mail. "A guy screamed X-rated stuff at me as I was walking out of my dry cleaner, and the guy who checked me in for my flight out of town jabbed at me as he tagged my bags.
"I'd never consider it abandoning Cleveland," Windhorst continued. "The circumstances for this job are challenging and it presents a certain image that I'm not thrilled with. But I will not apologize for wanting to leave a comfort zone to challenge myself. And I stand by my coverage of the Cavs and LeBron for the last seven years. I've always attempted to be balanced and fair and plan to continue that."
Last Saturday, Los Angeles Times NBA writer Mark Heisler ratcheted up the sarcasm with a piece on ESPN's upcoming Heat coverage. The column was headlined: "It's not even a matter of degrees -- ESPN's 'Heat Index' is off-the-charts silly." (Of course, it's worth noting that Heisler and his colleagues are competing against ESPN Los Angeles for eyeballs.)
What does Windhorst (who will provide periodic features on LeBron for the Plain Dealer) think of the amount of Heat coverage scheduled on ESPN this year?
"It's a risk to be sure," he said. "But all of ESPN.com was a risk at one point. ... We expect them [the Heat] to be part of the national conversation regularly for the next seven months, and so we're going to attempt to give strong analysis and perspective along the way to respond to that. We're even seeing this in Cleveland. The comments are all negative below the stories, but anything about LeBron continues to get strong traffic on Cleveland.com and stories generate conversation on local radio. As a big fan of Howard Stern, I know that some of his most loyal listeners over the years have been people who dislike him. I expect this to be the case with the Heat."
4. Mary Schmitt Boyer, Plain Dealer, Cavs beat writer: Windhorst became a national voice because of James' star power, and while Boyer no longer has LeBron Inc. in town, she does have a Twitter account with more than 32,000 followers. Windhorst said he decided to hand over his old Twitter account because he felt it would be insulting to those followers to begin tweeting heavily on the Heat.
"I realize Brian had a huge amount of personal followers -- as well he should -- so I'm not going to take it personally if some choose to unfollow me," Boyer said. "I've found that whereas I used to lean over and make a comment to a colleague, now I post that comment."
I asked Boyer, who has worked for a number of major newspapers and was honored two years ago with a Pioneer Award from the Association for Women In Sports Media, if the current Cavs beat can still maintain an audience outside of Ohio.
"People seem to forget that the Cavs had a following before LeBron, especially during the years of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance et al., so I would assume there will still be an interest in them this season, at least as much as there is in every other team that doesn't have LeBron," she said via e-mail. "Obviously, people certainly will be interested to see how they fare without him. I do think there's a certain element pulling for the Cavs because of what happened and how it happened."
As for Dec. 2., the day James returns to Cleveland, Boyer said: "I would bring ear plugs and a rain poncho. However, there is an interesting move afoot urging fans to be silent instead of boo. I don't know if that will happen, but fans here are well aware how LBJ responds to egging on by opponents, so we'll see."
5. Merrill Reese, Eagles broadcaster: Nine winters ago, I wrote that Reese delivered the NFL's most enjoyable broadcast. He continues to shine a decade later. Last week, a joint Philadelphia Daily News and Temple University Sports Industry Research Center study found that Reese "was far and away the No. 1 play-by-play voice in the city, with 50 percent of the vote." If you get a chance to listen to an Eagles game via Sirius XM Radio or the Web, Reese (to steal my own line from back in the day) furnishes an aria's worth of emotions.
6. Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter: Robinson's remarkable report last month that prominent NFL agent Gary Wichard and former University of North Carolina assistant football coach John Blake had engaged in multiple financial transactions since May of 2007 continues to reverberate. A longtime NFL writer who has since morphed to investigative work, Robinson said a source tipped him in May that the NCAA had been calling all over the country asking questions about multiple Tar Heels players. Since June 14, Robinson said he has not gone a day without making at least one UNC-related call.
"It's an important story because it raises the specter of influence and corruption in college sports," Robinson said. "On one side you have the NCAA, which wants to sustain the amateur talent base as long as possible. On the other, you have agents who earn their livelihood by dipping into it. To potentially have a coach working for both sides in that situation, it's like having a double agent in the intelligence community. ... It raises a fundamental question about trust. If a coach can't be trusted to keep agents at bay, then who can be trusted to do it?"
7 and 8. Mike Florio, NBC Sports analyst and Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk.com editor and founder: I didn't think I'd see a heavier p.r. initiative than the one ESPN is engaged in with SportsNation, but the communication department at NBC Sports has pushed Florio with the force of Vasili Alexeyev over the past few months. The result has been appearances for the PFT man in a variety of mediums, including during halftime of NBC's Notre Dame broadcasts and postgame coverage of Sunday Night Football. I recently asked Florio whether his new gigs have affected his criticism of networks.
"The natural alignment we feel with NBC makes it highly unlikely that I'd be critical of anything NBC does," Florio said via e-mail. "But it's nice to have the contractual ability to do so, if I so choose. As a practical matter, this has caused PFT to gradually shy away from offering criticism of most other networks' NFL game coverage, with the exception of Jon Gruden's over-the-top style of heaping praise on every team, player, owner and coach. My motivation in that regard was and is to persuade both Gruden and ESPN to realize how good he could be if the 'Chucky' persona that we saw during his interactions with the rookie quarterbacks would emerge in the broadcast booth. From a network competition standpoint, it's probably better for NBC if I keep my mouth shut about it."
As for whether PFT has gone softer since joining forces with NBC 15 months ago, Florio said he did not believe the site had changed much.
"We have evolved more into the mainstream while still incorporating humor where appropriate and tackling issues in a manner that is critical of the league generally, or specific teams, coaches, owners and players," Florio said. "We have tried to be more responsible in our reporting, which of course has prompted some readers (and media outlets that shall remain nameless) to complain that we are no longer as edgy or raw as we used to be. We aspire at all times to provide comprehensive information regarding all NFL issues and controversies and developments that the writers find to be interesting to them as NFL fans, regardless of whether the story is broken by PFT or someone else. The ongoing growth in traffic suggests that the audience is responding favorably to the service we provide."
9. Lou Holtz, ESPN and political endorser: It's always a tricky business when on-air sports talent reveals political views, and Holtz presents a serious challenge in Bristol these days with his very public work for the National Republican Congressional Committee and his hosting of a fundraiser this week for a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida, Sandy Adams.
Networks normally allow sports staffers to donate money to political campaigns, and there are no official restrictions at ESPN. The question is how viewers react if on-air personalities such as Holtz make known their political preferences. Historically, at least with print journalists and broadcasters who cover politics, public neutrality is a job requirement. But this has not been the case at ESPN, most famously with Emmitt Smith and Stephen A. Smith.
ESPN executive vice president of production Norby Williamson spoke with Holtz this week. A spokesperson said of Holtz's activism, "We don't expect further circumstances like that."
As for a more general policy on its staffers being active in politics, the spokesperson said, "We had a policy that we put out at the time of the presidential election to outline things, and our editorial board is undertaking the task of creating a standards and practices book."
10. Brent Musburger, ESPN: I'm a fan of Musburger's and an admirer of his longevity in the business, but his take on steroids ("I think under the proper care and doctor's advice, they could be used at the professional level") was reckless. As Gary Wadler, the head of the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency, told The Associated Press: "He's categorically wrong, and if he'd like to spend a day in my office, I can show him voluminous literature going back decades about the adverse effects of steroids. They have a legitimate role in medicine that's clearly defined. But if it's abused, it can have serious consequences."
Said ESPN spokesperson Mike Soltys: "The story came out, and Norby called Brent to discuss. Norby has no issues with Brent going forward."