Dear NBA: You Can’t Have It Both Ways on Twitter and Blogs

For those of you who follow sports and even for those of you who don’t, you may have seen the story that Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas has been ” suspended indefinitely” for bringing four handguns to his locker at the Washington, D.C. Verizon Center — as well as allegedly leaving a threatening note for a teammate telling him to “pick one.”

Oh – and to further taint what the NBA would like to be a squeaky-clean image, the dispute with teammate Javaris Crittendon (who allegedly also brandished a LOADED handgun) was over gambling debts.  Nice.  And there’s the oh-too-cute picture of Arenas making a bang-bang gesture is the Wizards team huddle.  Nice.

Until recently, Arenas was literally a poster-boy for the NBA.  He had a blog on (gone) as well as his own Twitter account (gonzo as well), which apparently helped him get into hot water.

ABC News, in an article entitled “Did the Twitter ramblings of Washington Wizards’ star point guard Gilbert Arenas cause him to be suspended indefinitely by the NBA?” stated:

It’s certainly starting to look that way and now the hoop star may regret using the social networking tool to speak his mind about the recent off-court incident that has him in hot water.


I live and work in Washington, DC, and while quirky and immature, it seems that the NBA and the Washington Wizards have tolerated Arenas’ social media forays — and profited from them as well.  If you tweet and gain hundreds of thousands of followers, you gain more popularity and you — and the NBA — benefit from it. Financially, dude.  More shirts, more hats, more $$$.

Until you say something they don’t like after you do something stupid.  After the story broke, Arenas tweeted:

“i wake up this morning and seen i was the new JOHN WAYNE..lmao media is too funny,”

Peter Vescey of the New York Post broke the gun story.  Arenas then tweeted:

“As for the reporter who broke the story – NY post should eject Peter V FROM WRITNG EVERY AGAIN,”

Hmm.  Seems like Ol’ Gil doesn’t get it.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project said that Twitter and other Web sites are a blessing and a curse for professional athletes:

“They have a new way to engage the public, their fans, and new ways to show a playful side of themselves…a way for them to bond even more deeply with their fans. But things that might seem private or more intimate, playful or spontaneous, appealing in one context, all of a sudden when they’re tweeted out to a wide audience, could take on a different context.”

You’re off the mark, Lee.  Tweeting something to a wide audience is not “taking on a different context.”  That statement is like saying that you have been misquoted in your own autobiography.  Plus, it’s hard to be taken out of context in 140 characters.

Double Standard

If the NBA wants their marketable athletes to tweet, let them tweet.  But don’t express horror when they say something that you don’t like, or say something that makes them look dumber than a bag of rocks (hello, handlers).  Moreover, you can’t he “half pregnant” – either let the athletes use Twitter when and how they want or not at all.  ABC notes:

Under the new social media policy, athletes cannot tweet during game time, which includes the 45 minutes before a game starts, half-time and the period after a game that is traditionally used for press conferences and media interviews. Violators can be fined by the league and face additional sanctions by their team. The NFL has similar restrictions on the time periods when players may not use social media.

My point is this:  the NBA WANTS their athletes to find ways to market themselves.  It furthers their reach, their audience and their brand.  The NBA WANTS people like Gilbert Arenas to blog on their platform.  And I tweet all the time at work, in restaurants, wherever.  And it rarely distracts me from what I get paid to do.

Here are some screen shots below that show how the NBA is either a little sloppy or a little clueless:

Gilbert is listed under “NBA Player Blogs.”  Ok.  Cool.  Let me click some more:

“Agent Zero Blog File.”  Wow.  You mean the NBA could have suspended him indefinitely and left his blog up?  Wait — it’s moved:


I think that Gilbert Arenas is yet another example of a man-child, pampered athlete whose exploits may have never seen the light of day, save for some investigative reporting by the New York Post. I think that the NBA was happy to have a man-child, pampered athlete use social media — as evidence by the fact that they HOSTED A BLOG FOR HIM.  So presumably, they were ok with him tweeting.

But Gilbert did something irrevocably stupid and then made it worse using his Twitter account.  That was shut down.  Gilbert was no longer a squeaky-clean poster boy, so the NBA shut down his blog (note to Webmaster – “page not found” is stupid and sloppy.  Just link to David Stern’s statement, dammit).

Man-child Tweeting?  Good.  Man-child blogging?  It’s all good, baby.

Idiot bringing four handguns to his workplace over gambling debt and then blaming others?  David Stern to Gilbert: you are SO outta here, baby.

My final point is that when Gilbert was finally facing his indefinite suspension and grand jury investigation, if you let him blog while he was the poster boy, why not let him blog when he is apologizing all over the place?  And why not let him do it on  That would demonstrate openness, transparency and prove that social media is not only ok, it can be a pretty good crisis communications tool.

But you can’t have it both ways, Mr. Stern.




  1. I disagree. The NBA has every right to express horror when one of its employees brings a gun to work, brandishes it, then makes light of it online.

    Hmmm, let’s sub out NBA for another employer: TSA. The TSA wants employees to blog. But an employee brings a gun to work at Dulles Airport, then brandishes it publicly, causing a public panic. Then said employee goes home and makes jokes about it on Twitter.

    Some actions are beyond forgiveness, Mark. We should not accept guns in the workplace because of public Twitter policies.

  2. Excellent piece Mark. As as huge NBA fan, the whole situation is embarrasing. And as someone who battles daily to improve brand of DC, it’s a huge step in the wrong direction. However, I try to remember that athletes are “at-will” employees and put these situations in context of other professions. If you look at some of the more high profile tweeps who work for traditional companies – there is no way they stay on board. It’s the problem with personal brands repping companies as many, many people argue.

    If Gilbert had been remorseful with his posts earlier, maybe the situation would been different. But it wasn’t until after he realized he was suspended when he suddenly started apologizing. Too late. And if anything, this is a lesson in not trying to “spin” in crisis (i.e. I took the guns to locker because I have young kids in the house) because even if the NBA had allowed him these social media tools, his credibility was shot.

  3. Mark Story Says: January 11, 2010 at 8:27 am


    Thanks for the post, but that’s not what I was trying to say. Of course it’s not acceptable for anyone to bring a gun to the workplace (aside from law enforcement) if you are NBA or TSA.

    But the TSA does not profit from highlighting their employees and selling merchandise with the numbers on the back. The TSA does not have three-story high murals of its employees at the Verizon Center. The NBA does. And they only allow certain members to blog under the banner. So theoretically, the NBA is gaining more traffic by encouraing the use of social media by its “employees.” And profiting from it. Twitter, I presume, is done separately, but again, the NBA says “use it” — but only under our rules. I doubt that Edelman has put a gag order on David Armano.

    My point is that it’s disingenuous for the NBA to make someone a poster boy and then yank the social media carpet out from under them once they do something egregiously stupid. Instead of yanking the “Agent Zero” blog, they had the perfect opportunity to allow Gilbert Arenas to post his apology on his blog. Crisis Communications 101.

    Sure, just about everyone has walked away from Tiger Woods, but hids sponsors profited from him too and then expressed horror when it was publicly disclosed what the sponsors probably knew privately.

    Is Gilbert Arenas a man-child idiot? Absolutely – and he will likely be in more hot water with law enforcement his employer. But David Stern should not react with shock and horror when something happens, no matter how stupid it is, when there has been a wink-wink, nod-nod culture for pampered athletes for years – a system that has helped make Mr. Stern a rich man.

  4. Mark Story Says: January 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

    You bring up a good comment, Mike, that makes me think of supra and subsystems of business.

    If a State Farm agent brought a gun to work and shot someone,
    what he public would NOT respond to would be a statement from State Farm Corporate saying “Well, Bob was in fact and independent contractor and was not an employee of the firm.” This is technically true, it would not resonate one bit.

    And like I said before (and I know that this is a passion of yours), the NBA makes millions off of people like Gilbert Arenas. Don’t tell me that they don’t look the other way many, many times.

  5. Hmmmm, I’m going to avoid the whole second amendment, Arenas is an idiot and irresponsible gun owner and so is the other guy arguments. They’ll add nothing here.

    As so many social media pros are fond of espousing, being genuine, open and engaging are the cornerstones of “doing social media right.” But here’s a case where some PR person (probably a lawyer or three) thought it better to simply eliminate the problem. Sweep it under the rug. But this only made the problem worse.

    Part of why I’ve put executives in front of a WordPress terminal or a Twitter text box is because of their personality and what may happen. People want to see the real person. And as every single athlete I follow has shown, we’re not getting ghost tweets or posts.

    The other issue that comes to mind here is data ownership. Who owns the data an employee creates? Does the NBA have any legal right to control what is posted to an assumedly personal social media account?

    The NBA jumped before it looked at what was below them with regard to “social media.” It will be interesting to see how it responds in the future.

  6. I love the NBA and Twitter, but come on now. There is no reason a player needs to be tweeting during a game. I want my favorite players with their eyes on the ball the entire game, whether they are on the court or bench. Tweeting little updates during a game is stupid when they should be focusing on the game, especially if they are a losing team.

  7. Mark Story Says: January 11, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Really good comment about ownership, Eric. Didn’t think of that.

  8. Mark Story Says: January 11, 2010 at 10:39 am


    I may have intentionally take it to the extreme a bit on that issue, but what about injured players – the guys in suits on the bench? Should they be allowed to tweet?

  9. I think the NBA did the right thing. He abused his right as a spokesperson, and the NBA has absolutely every right to say stop if you want to continue working in our League. You can’t have your cake and your pie, too.

    If Gilbert wants to tweet, he’s a free man. He stopped of his own volition to adhere to the NBA’s request because he still wants to work there.

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