He shoots, he Twitters

By in Sports & Health

Sports Writer

When NBA players started flocking to Twitter, there was no need to abate my excitement. Giving pro athletes a global megaphone was somewhere between sleeping with spiders and peeing into the wind on my to-do list.
I was not surprised by how banal most of the players were: Miami’s Dwyane Wade never seems to stop playing with his kids and those who attended college make note of the happenings of their Alma Maters’ sports teams. Yet whenever any of them writes that “life is good” I can’t help but feel like they are being ignorant. Of course life is good, you make millions!

The sports world doesn’t lack for platitudes, and tweeting players are not afraid to whip those out when life brings them a dilemma bigger than “What should I eat tonight, tweeps?”

Take the Detroit Pistons’ Charlie Villanueva, for example. He offered this quote by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, after he and the Dominican Republic national basketball team were eliminated from world championship contention: “There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.”

Villanueva’s use of the quote was a historical first: never before has a sports loss been juxtaposed with one man’s experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Some praise players’ use of Twitter as offering the fans unlimited access to the game. But, as expected, the insight goes no further than the same platitudes players offer sideline reporters.

Not to pick on Charlie again, but he was one of the first players to tweet during an NBA halftime. His commentary, aside from getting him reprimanded, was essentially useless: “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.”

Even Shaquille O’Neal, the court jester of the NBA and one the most followed people on Twitter, loses panache in his 140 characters. People often forget that the joy of Shaq’s character comes from his willingness to goof off during a press conference, an arena most athletes reserve for clichés and canned lines.

As a result, I feel as disconnected from the players as ever. Heck, as I am writing this New Orleans Hornets’ Julian Wright is posting about his frustration when valets fail to put his car seat in its proper place.

Yet, when I look past the awful syntax, their references to spending millions and their poor attempts at humour, there is something charming about the realism in their Twitter existences.

It’s amusing to read about Toronto Raptor Pops Menseh-Bonsu’s struggle to operate his television in a Polish hotel, only to post two minutes later, sheepishly, that he had neglected to activate the power in his room with his key card, as required in most hotels. Then there are Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans’ Chris Paul both agonizing over the fact that their favourite show Entourage would not be airing that week.

Too often, sports figures get wrapped in myths of grandeur due to their abilities in their sports, so it’s refreshing to see them invoking such everyday concerns.

The older generation of NBA players haven’t flocked to Twitter as readily as the youth. Even when the veterans do punch up a sentence or two, it is generally done in a serious, business-like manner.

The youngsters offer a more unfiltered zest to their posts. There’s former Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Childress, now playing in Greece, whose Twitter account doubles as both a basketball diary and a travel journal. In the past, Childress would have vanished from the basketball world until he returned to American soil. Instead, the fan gets to go along for the ride and chart Childress’ progress. Anecdotes like Childress playfully chiding a new American teammate for attempting to order American-styled cuisine in Athens makes subscribing to his feed worthwhile.

For better or worse, fans now get to experience the growth and maturation of the young players first-hand. Previously, the growth and maturity of a player used to be restricted to the court but now players’ growing pains are on full display.

Miami’s Michael Beasley allegedly left a bag of marijuana in full display on a Twitter photo, while the NBA forced Denver’s J.R. Smith to deactivate his account after he was accused of associated himself with the Bloods street gang. Boneheaded moves? Sure. But then there are numerous rookies or players struggling to receive a contract who, via Twitter, broadcast the uncertainty and confusion of their lives as pro athletes.

It’s as close as the fan is going to get to the life of a pro, yet the perception of the athlete isn’t presented by a media spokesperson.

graphic Luke Siemens and Matthew Stefanson