June 17, 2011
Over the past few years, Twitter has become a useful and simple way for NBA players to communicate with their fans. For many, it's as much a part of their daily lives as pregame shootarounds and offseason workout routines. When they have something to say, they do it on Twitter.
The Orlando Magic are the most active team on the service, with 10 of their 13 players holding accounts. One of those guys, Gilbert Arenas(notes) (@agentzeroshow), has created a good deal of controversy over the last few weeks after being fined for some profane tweets.
Not surprisingly, this incident has made team GM Otis Smith question the role of Twitter. From Josh Robbins for the Orlando Sentinel:
"I have thoughts about everyone's Twitter account, actually," he said.
"It's got to be the dumbest thing a professional athlete has ever done. But they do it, and I've got no problem with that. That's the world that we live in now: the mass media in which everyone is a reporter and everyone has an opinion on stuff and they continue to put it out there. God bless 'em all. Why a guy in the public eye would choose to do that kind of stuff is beyond me."
Wow, Otis, I didn't know you could call something "the dumbest thing a professional athlete has ever done" and then say you have "no problem with that." I guess he's a libertarian and doesn't let his personal beliefs affect the laws of the land. Legalize it!
While Smith's response is understandable in the bad publicity Arenas brought to the organization with his recent tweeting spree, it also betrays ignorance regarding how the players on his team actually use Twitter. Arenas falls towards the more irreverent end of the tweet spectrum, but teammate Jason Richardson(notes) (@jrich23) mostly holds contests for fans and talks about life with his kids. That's certainly not "the dumbest thing a professional athlete has ever done," and it's much more indicative of typical NBA Twitter action than Arenas's fine-worthy comments (which, it should be said, were not close to the most offensive things I've ever seen on an NBA account).
Twitter can be an effective tool for NBA players to reach out to fans and control their message; this much has been proven in just two or three years of widespread usage. To take Arenas' incident as representative of the whole is both an overreaction and a sign that Smith has formed an opinion of Twitter without taking the time to look into the ways it can help his team. Perhaps that task falls out of his job's purview, but in that case he shouldn't feel the need to respond to the question with anything but a noncommittal answer. It's fine to admit your own ignorance, and Smith should have the wherewithal to do so when the subject involves Twitter. Because, as these comments made clear, he has no idea what he's talking about.