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Thanks but no thanks

Blazers' 'iRoy' gift crosses ethical line for journalists

Posted: Friday January 25, 2008 3:36PM; Updated: Friday January 25, 2008 10:30PM
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The Blazers' All-Star campaign for Brandon Roy included a free iPod for coaches and select media members.
Photo courtesy of Trail Blazers
Brandon Roy
Roy's numbers speak for themselves: 19.2 points, 5.7 assists per game.
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One of the small perks about being an NBA writer is that you occasionally get clever little items from teams trying to promote their players for various honors.

My office shelves are cluttered with such trinkets. There's a faux Minnesota "KG4MVP" license plate. There's a milk carton with Emeka Okafor's face and a "Got 'Mek?" caption. There's a lunch box with a '70s style Heat theme.

But nothing prepared me for what arrived in the mail the other day.

To help promote Brandon Roy for this year's All-Star Game, the Blazers sent me an iRoy.

What's an iRoy, you ask?

It's a special edition iPod nano. This nano is just like one you might buy in a store except it's customized to promote Roy. It features a picture of the Blazers' second-year phenom on the front and "#7 Brandon Roy, Special All-Star Edition" etched on the back. When you push the play button, a preloaded video shows a Roy highlight package accompanied by music.

It's very cool.

And very wrong.

At least it's wrong to send as a gift to media members paid to provide objective coverage of the Blazers and the NBA.

I know I'm returning mine (as soon as I can pry it from my wife's hands, that is).

For those who haven't browsed an Apple Store lately, an iPod goes for around $200.

I'm not sure where the line is between a promotional gift and a bribe, but I don't need to consult my company's policy to know it would be wrong to accept it.

It reminds me of politics in Chicago, or the way Salt Lake City greased those Olympic Committee organizers, or how Sharon Stone bought gold watches for Academy Award voters.

Unlike a cheap trinket or a bobblehead, an iPod is an item of actual value -- something I would buy myself.

In fairness to the Blazers, the iRoy campaign wasn't intended to influence the media, per se. Media members don't have any direct say in the All-Star selections. Fan balloting determines the starters (and the polls have closed) and coaches select the reserves.

According to Blazers president Larry Miller, the iRoy campaign was conceived as a novel way to educate Western Conference coaches. They are the ones who vote, and they each received one in the mail.

The decision to include the media on the gift list was strictly for publicity, even though the Blazers marketing folks knew some might view it as crossing an ethical line.

"It was a bit of a concern but we thought we'd take a chance because it was such a creative idea," Miller said. "We figured we might get a few [returned]."

As for the iRoy unduly influencing the coaches, Miller said he didn't think that would be the case. He said it wasn't intended to buy their votes, but rather as a way to remind them of Roy's impact on the resurgent Blazers. He said he has not heard any complaints from other teams.

"Hopefully it will influence [the coaches] not to do anything other than consider Brandon," he said. "We just want them to take a good hard look."

Fair enough. Presumably, well-compensated NBA coaches aren't going to be influenced by a free music player. I'm guessing hipster Phil Jackson already owns one, and can you imagine old-school Jerry Sloan firing up his iRoy next time he's on his tractor?

But for the 60 or so "select national and local media" members who received this cool little gadget, this nano is a definite no-no.

Even if we don't have a say in the All-Star voting, we do have a forum in which we can influence opinions in the future. It's not hard to believe some of us might think more kindly of Roy when it comes to voting for MVP or All-NBA teams at the end of the season when we've got a free iPod in our back pocket. After all, what did Baron Davis or Manu Ginobili ever do for me?

We can only wonder what other candidates for the Western Conference All-Star reserves who don't have their own iPod line think about the Blazers' campaign. Maybe we'll find out in the days ahead.

In the meantime, I'm going to go put that iRoy back in the mail -- and that Chris Duhon bobblehead back on my office shelf.