The NBA’s Twitter All-Stars

The Internet is such a lovely thing. Think about it, almost anything you can ever want is a mere tapping of a few keystrokes away. From some brand new exclusive shoes or clothes to the latest albums, movies, TV shows and blogs covering everything from Ants to Zucchini. Chances are that if you love something, it’s probably online. And if you’re an NBA junkie like me, its latest gift is the wonderful world of Twitter, or as Shaq calls it, “Twitteronia.”

For those who still aren’t hip to Tweeting, let me break it down.

First off I’ll go with what the site describes itself as: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

It sounds pretty straightforward and easy, and for the most part it is. You sign up with an e-mail, a password and a name of your choice. After that, you literally just post whatever it is you’re doing right now. Whether it’s listening to some music, mowing the lawn or publicly complaining about your roommate behind their back. After that, you can browse the site and pick and choose who you follow, meaning whose updates (tweets) you subscribe to. Anyone who subscribes to your updates is one of your followers.

At first use the site does seem pretty complicated to figure it out, with most new users probably wondering what the heck all the “@” symbols mean and where to make sense of it all. But after a while it starts to come together and you’ll most likely be hooked, checking to see what Martha Stewart is up to or to get a warm goodnight greeting from Diddy. Everyday.

A rather disturbing photo proclaiming Shaq as the King of Twitteronia.

If that happens to us common folk, imagine what happens when you give famous, multimillionaire athletes with 24-hour web access a free, instant website to express themselves?

How about a classic NBA sitcom/reality show. Think about it, we all have egos and sometimes think (either secretly or publicly) that everyone else cares about or wants to constantly know what we’re doing. Now imagine multiplying that ego-driven reality by someone whose bank account has about six extra zeros and you’re bound to get Twitter gold.

Back in the day you had to wait for tomorrow’s paper (usually boring, formulaic replies) or 30 minutes in a parking lot after the game to catch a few words from your favorite players or coaches. Not anymore, not by a long shot.

Take the posts of Twitter’s most famous athlete, Shaquille O’ Neal.

Timeless “Twitpics” uploaded on Shaq’s Twitter account.

He’s pioneered some fun and interactive contests for his 500,000 + followers, like the time he invited anyone reading his tweets to meet him at the restaurant where he was having lunch, and then poking fun at those shy or afraid to approach him. Or the contests he’s done to give away free tickets to the first person to identify where he’s at through his tweets or the first to touch him. (Click the link, it’s a great read.)

Not to be outdone, at least a dozen other NBA ballers tweeters have accounts and some have also used Twitter to make their way into the news cycle.

Perhaps the most publicized was the time Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva tweeted the following during halftime of a crucial game against the Boston Celtics: “In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We’re playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up.” Despite the fact that he came out for the second half and played well enough to secure an upset win over the Champs, he still received a lot of heat for the move and prompted Bucks coach Scott Skiles to publicly announce a ban on tweeting during a game.

There was a mini-fallout out after the Villanueva incident, with everyone from Doc Rivers to Alvin Gentry giving their take. Shaq took the opportunity to announce that he would post a tweet at halftime, fearing no repercussions from his coach, who it turned out didn’t really care. “As long as he gets 25 (points) and 11 (rebounds), he can do whatever he wants. He can Twitter, Facebook, MySpace,” said Gentry. Shaq did post at halftime, a fitting “Shhhhhhh.”

Turns out Gentry might have been more understanding since he has a Twitter account of his own. And he isn’t alone. Former player and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose uses the site, and Paul Pierce, Steve Nash, Chris Bosh and Clippers guard Baron Davis all regularly update as well. For Davis, the site also led to unexpected moments, like the time he updated his account with a picture of where he was having lunch with his teammates. It all seemed routine and innocent until he updated a few minutes later saying that people were calling the restaurant asking for him. More than once.

Baron Davis learns that posting a Twitpic of where you’re eating probably isn’t the best idea.

And while the Baron incident was taken with some humor (he later tweeted suggesting his followers should call and ask for teammate Marcus Camby at another restaurant they were at), it hasn’t all been fun and games. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was recently fined $25,000 by the NBA for comments he made about officiating on his Twitter. Ouch. If anything, just like with other social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, the Cuban incident served as a reminder that you should always be careful what you say, especially if you’re high profile on a public website. Cuban took it in stride, and of course he had to add his funny 2 cents on the fine. “can’t say no one makes money from twitter now. the nba does.”

Even with the few bad moments, Twitter appears to be the next big Internet phenomenon. With all the great fan interaction, the ease of following your favorite players, the satisfaction of knowing hundreds or thousands of people care what you think and the potentially gripping storylines, it’s hard not to have it be your new guilty pleasure. The only thing this drama has been missing so far is a good, old fashioned rivalry. Learn more about staying healthy as you click here.

New Orleans Hornets center Tyson Chandler hopes to change that though, according to a recent blog post on his website. “I was thinking about dissing Shaq on his Twitter. Something to make him come back to mine. That’s how it happens on the street. I feel like when rappers start a beef that their album sales go up. So I’m going to start a beef with Shaq and maybe I’ll get more Twitter hits. I hope he doesn’t take it personal though. Rappers just talk. I actually have to see Shaq in a couple weeks.”

At least Tyson is smart enough to admit that his only similarity to Iron Mike is the names they share. Nobody wants Shaq to beat anybody up because of Twitter, unless of course there are some portable Twitcams there to catch it all for the rest of us.

– Will.