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Straight from the source

Bevy of players using blogs to shape NBA discourse

Posted: Wednesday November 7, 2007 12:01PM; Updated: Wednesday November 7, 2007 12:01PM
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Baron Davis is one of many big-name players communicating directly to fans through a blog that has a personal touch.
Baron Davis is one of many big-name players communicating directly to fans through a blog that has a personal touch.

It is often said that the NBA has an image problem. If this is indeed the case -- and that's a debate that involves sticky discussions of race, class and economics -- how does one go about changing that image?

In the past, the answer has been, by and large, by league mandate. If the game seemed too slow and physical, the NBA simply changed the game. The three-point line was introduced, then shrunk, then unshrunk; hand checks and palming came in and out of fashion; zone defense was derided, then embraced. If the players seemed unprofessional, the league instituted a dress code. If they seemed too green, it was time for an age restriction; too volatile and it led to a crackdown on fighting (thou shall not leave the bench during a melee, thou shall not throw comically ineffective punches, etc.).

The advantages to this method were the same as any dictatorship: One voice spoke for all. But while the league could control the game, and to an extent the behavior of its players, it couldn't control how fans viewed those players. That was left to the interpreters and amplifiers of the sports world: the media and marketers. A player could be charming and funny, he could open orphanages in his spare time, he could be writing a doctoral thesis on -- well, it didn't matter on what, just so long as he was writing one -- but no one would know any of this soul-warming information if the Daily Gazettes and soda-pop peddlers of the world didn't see fit to publicize it.

Until now, that is. For years, NBA stars have had Web sites, but for the most part these were stale, bland promotional tools, invariably featuring "diary" entries that were either nine months old or read as if they'd been written by a PR flak. Today, though, an increasing number of players are writing regular blogs and -- glory of glories -- many of the players may be actually doing the writing themselves. How do we know? Well, for example, take this entry from Baron Davis' blog, which would have been nearly impossible for an intern to transcribe, much less understand: "FTB, def glad you respect my gridn and the old skool style, ya dig. I may rock a design in the beard this year... Let me know what I should do. Lol. Before I bounce out the yard I just wanna say that all of yall who heard I can spit, I will lace you with some bars soon! But for now, its back to camp." (If any of that didn't make sense, head to urbandictionary.com for a decode. As for 'FTB,' it refers to "Fear the Beard," an Oakland-based, pro-Baron blog.)

Davis' site is on the Yardbarker network, a centralizer of sorts for athlete blogs that includes those of Greg Oden, Hakim Warrick and Carmelo Anthony. Over at NBA.com, you'll find the king of NBA bloggers, Gilbert Arenas, as well as an assortment of other players, some of whom are -- how to put this? -- more suited to the written word than others. Here's an excerpt from a post last March by Clippers center Chris Kaman (who is, incidentally, a really interesting guy to talk to): "We were on the road for 10 days. We played San Antonio and lost. It was the first game we played well in a while. We played hard. It was a good thing and we were hoping it was going to carry over into the next game. We played Houston next in the back-to-back, and it did carry over. We played well against Houston ..." And, well, you get the idea.

That athletes are writing online isn't all that revolutionary. What may be, however, is the way in which these blogs are at times inverting the media cycle. In some cases, it is the players who are now setting the media agenda. When Anthony was recently quoted as saying he thought the Nuggets could win 60 games this season, it came not from his mouth but his blog. When Arenas boasted that the Wizards would beat the Celtics -- "You might as well cheer for me because Boston isn't winning in Boston for the season opener" -- he did it on his blog (it was a blatant, but quite effective, PR move; as Arenas told reporters after Boston crushed the Wizards, "My blog is powerful now. Everyone reads it.") When the San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler wrote a column about how Davis has started a book club for the Warriors (first selection: The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, by John Maxwell), it came eight days after Davis had written a post on his blog titled "Warriors Book Club" in which he described the idea and added, by way of social commentary, "Take that haters. Ballers do read, write and count."

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