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After scoring 19 points and hitting five 3-pointers in a huge Game 7 performance to beat the Denver Nuggets, Steve Blake was lauded for shaking off a 12-for-33 mark in the first six games and coming up big when it counted. But after missing an open corner 3-pointer that would have given the Los Angeles Lakers a one-point lead in the closing seconds of Game 2 — a game that the Lakers led by seven with two minutes left, a game they gave away in a manner befitting Santa Claus, according to their center — some fickle fans changed their tune on the backup point guard and, disgustingly, brought his family into the mix.
After the game, both the Twitter feeds of Blake and his wife, Kristen, were inundated with criticism ranging from curse word-laden rants to threats.
"I hope your family gets murdered," read one tweet that Kristen Blake re-tweeted along with a single comment: "Wow." [...]
Steve Blake responded to the troublesome situation after Lakers practice on Thursday.
"It's pretty disappointing that there are a lot of hateful people out there, but you move on," Blake said. "I just don't appreciate it when it's toward my family. You can come at me all you want but when you say things about my wife and my kids, that makes me upset."
As horrendous and regrettable as this is, it's nothing new; as long as there have been sporting matches to lose, there have been goats blamed for losing them, and pockets of disgruntled, perspective-lacking fandom whose pursuit of doling that blame out ventures far beyond the pale of reason and decency. (And let's be clear about this: "Lakers fans" aren't to be blamed for death threats and hate speech lobbed uncaringly at the Blakes; "awful, lunatic-fringe idiots" are. Several bad apples don't spoil a gigantic, passionate bunch.)
What is relatively new, though, is how social media outlets — primarily Twitter, since more pros actually seem to use and manage Twitter accounts themselves than handle, say, their own Facebook pages or write their own blogs — and the immediate connections they afford fans to the objects of their obsession can factor into this mix.
These outlets give athletes a direct pipeline to the general public, enabling them to promote products, build brands and spin narratives from their own perspectives, free of intermediaries like reporters. They offer near-limitless opportunities to shape and cultivate one-to-one fan interaction in a way and on a scale that they've never been able to before, which can (and does) have myriad, monstrous upsides.
Stuff like this, though, ranks among the downsides.
Every person who thinks that missing a shot is a crime that should be punishable by death, or that the "sins" of the father should be borne by his son, now knows exactly where to go to let you know that. And because the default means of communication is open rather than closed, it's up to you to decide case by case, over and over, who is and isn't allowed to write awful things to you; Kristen Blake said she'd chosen to block more than 500 people from being able to view her timeline or send her messages after the storm of vulgarities and threats.
And Blake's not alone. Ask Chicago Bulls point guard C.J. Watson about his timeline after Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Or Joel Ward of the NHL's Washington Capitals about the reaction to his series-winning goal to beat the Boston Bruins a few weeks back. This happens just about every time a team loses in a difficult or heartbreaking way.
It's awful, uncalled-for and ridiculous, but it's a fact of life in an arena where speech is free, access is unfettered and a moment's pause to think is frequently more time than folks are willing to spend. For the most part, the heinous stuff people feel liberated to say behind a keyboard goes unpunished and unanswered; while one bonus of Twitter is that, unlike anonymous comment-section and message-board postings, it's not too tough to find out who said these awful things, especially when they attach their real names and photographs to them, it's unlikely there'll be any kind of real-world retribution for the creeps and cowards who wished harm on a man's wife and kids for missing a jumper.
Even worse, if Blake hits that shot next time — and he's a good bet to do so, considering he hit 38 percent of his corner 3-balls this season — all these ciphers are going to get to stand up and cheer as if none of this ever happened. They'll high five and laugh, letting the warm fuzzies of another Laker win and the familiar strains of Randy Newman push the dark stuff to the margins. They'll never give it a second thought. I doubt the same'll be true for Steve and Kristen Blake. Sometimes life isn't fair.
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