Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Guest post today from RealGM's Alex Kennedy on the NBA-Twitter relationship ... 

When Allen Iverson announced that he would be signing with the Memphis Grizzlies on Twitter, sportswriters across the country grimaced. For a while, players used the popular social networking site to just talk to their fans and share random tidbits of information not really worth reporting. But Iverson was the latest example of Twitter becoming a way for players to bypass the media altogether and dictate what is being reported.

When Iverson posted the breaking news, outlets across the country had no choice but to cite the report and quote his update. There was no journalist uncovering information or calling sources for the scoop. The A.I. news came straight from the player involved and was typed up in a matter of seconds.

This poses a problem for the world of journalism. While Twitter can be a resource for sports journalists to network and share their work, it may also be the downfall of the industry. The job of a sportswriter is to be knowledgeable about the game they're covering, give insight on situations related to their sport, interview players, give access to fans and uncover new information.

But who is more knowledgeable then the players themselves? Would you rather hear insight from Kobe Bryant(notes) himself or me? Doesn't Twitter give fans more access than a reporter ever could?

Stephon Marbury(notes) is the perfect example of this new level of interaction between players and their fans and the amount of access they are granted. Marbury has been webcasting on a daily basis all summer and fans can chat with the ex-NBA point guard during broadcasts.

Naturally, I tried to reach out to Stephon and interview him for this piece. When asked how Twitter is affecting sports journalism, Marbury didn't hold back. "We are the media," he said. "What we're saying is the truth; there are no lies. Why would we need other media outlets when we have our own?"

He said he would continue the interview but only under one condition. It had to be done on his show so that his fans could hear his answers — it couldn't be exclusive to Yahoo! Sports.

Here lies the problem for sports media — the players have control. While preparing for this column, I realized I had two options. I could spend another one thousand words talking about the problems this presents for people like myself who work in this industry or I could organize a roundtable discussion with players on Twitter to weigh in and share their insight. That is, after all, what people want these days, right?

So I rounded up several players who are active on Twitter for a lil' discussion.

Charlie Villanueva(notes) was one of the first players to thrust Twitter into the NBA spotlight when he tweeted during halftime of a game last season while on the Milwaukee Bucks. Like Iverson, he also broke his free agency news via his Twitter account when he informed his followers that he would be signing with Detroit Pistons early this offseason.

Rashad McCants(notes), who announced his signing with the Houston Rockets last week, has used the website to interact with supporters and provide his followers with updates as he tested free agency. Details about his workouts and potential suitors were posted all summer long. He has also used Twitter to reach out and communicate with his fans on Instant Messenger and on his BlackBerry.

C.J. Watson(notes) faced restricted free agency this summer and gave his followers updates throughout the process. Throughout sign-and-trade talks, various rumors, and then finally signing the Warriors' qualifying offer, Watson was there filling in the fans and answering any questions they may have had.

Finally, Jared Dudley(notes) has used Twitter to not only communicate with his fans but also relayed information regarding Matt Barnes'(notes) free agency status to ESPN's Ric Bucher earlier this summer. Bucher reported on the story but after receiving a significant amount of criticism, ESPN banned tweets not related to the network. Today, Dudley continues to connect with his fans via Twitter and has even given away tickets to upcoming Phoenix Suns' games through the social media site.

Without further ado, let's get to the first ever NBA Twitter roundtable.

Alex Kennedy: First of all, how often are you guys on Twitter?

Charlie Villanueva: I check it about four or five times a day.

Jared Dudley: I would say I use it at least five times a day.

Rashad McCants: I used to be on Twitter a lot, about 50 times a day (laughs). But now I'm down to about ten.

C.J. Watson: I check mine on a daily basis.

*****

Kennedy: What are some of the pros and cons of Twitter? Is it worth the controversy that guys like Michael Beasley(notes) and J.R. Smith(notes) have faced?

Dudley: I think it's big for athletes because you can interact with your fans and it gives you a personality. It allows people see your sense of humor and what you do outside of the sport. Basically, we have your own reality T.V. show on websites like UStream and a media outlet on Twitter. It allows you to become more than just a basketball player.

The cons are saying negative things that could damage your reputation. When Michael Beasley was saying things like, "I don't want to live," on his Twitter, that definitely had negative consequences. It's a positive thing when you are interacting with fans, but in the end, you're your own business and you affect your reputation.

Villanueva: The pros are that I can interact with the fans directly instead of going through the media or the middle person. The cons are athletes can give away too much information. That's definitely one of the problems. The media is using Twitter heavily as a source so if you say something wrong, they can use it against you. Athletes have to watch what they tweet. Make sure they keep it neutral and clean.

Watson: The pros are getting to know the fans and interacting with them. The cons are saying the wrong thing or having people take what you say out of context. You definitely have to watch what you say.

McCants: I think sometimes people take how we interact with our fans the wrong way. We talk to the fans like our friends, like it's a normal conversation and the things we say are real. It's all about bringing the fans closer to the actual player.

I think there are different ways of doing it that can actually bring more fans into the arena because of Twitter. I can put a finger on certain fans that are going to buy tickets no matter which team I sign with because of the interaction we've had on Twitter and that's a plus for the NBA. That is definitely one of the pros.

As far as cons, it's not going to be a problem for people who don't take it to the extreme.

*****

Kennedy: How will Twitter affect sports journalism in the long run? Is it hurting the industry?

McCants: To an extent, I agree with [what Marbury said]. When it comes directly from the player, there's no need for someone else to put it in writing.

Villanueva: Yeah, but social networking has taken the media to another level. They should take advantage of it. I don't think it will ever replace the media. Everyone still relies on the news. It's just another way to interact with the fans. At the end of the day, we know that the media are the ones to deliver the news though.

Dudley: I think it's affecting journalism to a certain point, but journalists are still going to be able to break news. They can bring news in a different light than players can. We're just talking to fans. Journalism is still a part of the game. I think for guys like Stephon, they don't need it as much but for smaller up and coming guys, we don't have that large audience that they do.

Over the summer, when [Ric] Bucher reported some information I had given him, it was the truth. All of the information I give is concrete and that's one reason we can be trusted. When I report something, it's one hundred percent true at that time. Everything I report, from Steve Nash's(notes) contract situation to a player signing somewhere are things that I have heard from either the player or reliable sources and is true at that very moment.

Watson: Journalism is important. We may have Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and UStream, but at the end of the day, it is important. We need it for our sport and we rely on one another.

*****

Kennedy: The NFL just banned tweeting for ninety minutes prior to and after games. These are the same restrictions that media members must follow when interviewing players. What do you guys think about this? Should players be tweeting during games? (Ed. note: ESPN reports that the coming NBA Twitter policy will be less stringent than the guidelines NFL commissioner Roger Goodell enacted in his league.)

McCants: I don't see anything wrong with the NFL doing that. There shouldn't be tweeting that close to games or at halftime. That's part of your job and you shouldn't be doing that during games. Maybe if you send a tweet the night before a game but once it's game time it's, "I'll catch up with you guys later."

Watson: I think it's kind of disrespectful to the game of basketball, but I guess it's fun for the fans. I just never thought it would have gotten like this where basketball is a lot of commercial stuff instead of just being about the game. I probably wouldn't tweet during games unless I wasn't playing [because of an injury] but hopefully that doesn't happen.

Villanueva: I don't think it's disrespectful. As long as guys keep it clean it's all right. It's entertainment. If your team has a rule though, you definitely have to follow it and abide by it. I think the NBA will probably limit it, but not put as many restrictions on it as the NFL because the NBA has a Twitter page themselves and they see how it can benefit the league.

Dudley: I think this is important for the future of Twitter. It may die down, but it depends on the Commissioners. The NFL already banned tweeting during or around games and if the other leagues follow that lead, it could change everything.

*****

Kennedy: With that said, is Twitter just a trend or is it here for good?

Villanueva: I think it's here to stay. It's just going to get better. They are going to continue upgrading it and I think it will just evolve over time.

Dudley: I think it's here to stay. It's not just a trend. It may die down eventually but like I said, that depends on the Commissioners. My followers are growing and they know things about me they never would. They now know I'm a Charger fan, what I do each day, etc. I gave away tickets to one of our preseason games through Twitter. It has opened up so much and I can't see it dying out.

Watson: I think it's a trend. Things come and go each year like MySpace and Facebook and I think it'll fizzle out eventually just like everything else does.

McCants: The only way it will die out is if they come out with something that's better. It's become a part of players' day-to-day lives and I don't think that's going to change unless something new comes out.

Question or comment? RealGM's Alex Kennedy can be reached at swishkennedy@yahoo.com or via Twitter. Thanks to Charlie Villanueva (@CV31), Rashad McCants (@RashadMcCants), Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) and C.J. Watson (@quietstorm_32) for their time. Check them out on Twitter.

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