Category Archives: NBA

Mirroring Social Evolution

Donald Sterling ClippedAs I sit and think about sports today, I think about the hot topics splattering headlines in the recent weeks and months. It’s not about money or arrests or even cheating. Instead, we’re reading and discussing unacceptable bigotry in major league sports – Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments and Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL. While some may not agree, I think this is pretty incredible. An industry previously thought of as traditional, and keen to an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, has now become a reflection of real social change.

A lifetime ban for Donald and jerseys flying off the shelves for Sam (despite his lack of assigned number) have both been applauded by the general public, as well as the players and organizations they support.

Furthermore, when Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted, “Horrible” shortly following the St. Louis Rams selection of Sam in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft, he was bombarded with disapproving criticism. His employer even issued a statement assuring the public that he would be addressed appropriately. An admirable effort from the team that was previously at the center of a bulling scandal – bringing national scrutiny to locker room culture in the NFL.

Circling back to the outrageous babbling of Donald Sterling, a valid question was raised by his wife, Shelly Sterling, in an interview with Barbara Walters: “I’m wondering if a wife of one of the owners, and there’s 30 owners, did something like that, said those racial slurs, would they oust the husband? Or would they leave the husband in?” An interesting and noteworthy perspective, but perhaps not a legitimate claim. We’ll have to wait (likely years) to see her fate while she contemplates the fate of her marriage. Donald, on the other hand, issued an apology today via a taped CNN interview with Anderson Cooper begging to be allowed this one mistake in his 35 years of ownership. Somehow I doubt that this is his one and only mistake during that time…but I could be wrong…

All in all, once the standard is now the unacceptable. While state and federal laws in the past few years (and 50 years) have helped spearhead equal rights movements worldwide, it was once projected that men’s professional sports were far from following suit. With both surprise and gratitude, I look to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams (and their PR teams, of course) for their courage and commitment to social change in sports. It may be too early to say that we are entering a new world of sports, but this is undoubtably a conscious effort by industry leaders to shift perception and mirror societal evolution.

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Jason Collins: “The Announcement Should be Mine to Make, Not TMZ’s”

Today, history was made. Jason Collins dominated headlines and raked in Twitter followers by becoming the first openly gay active athlete. He opened up to the world this morning as Sports Illustrated‘s May 6 issue hit newsstands, bearing his fearless smile on the cover.

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“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins’ confessional byline begins, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

This is a huge moment in sports, politics and American culture. In his debut piece, the seven-foot center and free agent notes that while he’s been struggling with the decision for nearly two years, it was the recent Boston Marathon bombing that made him realize that he shouldn’t wait for the circumstances to be perfect.

My initial reaction to the news was an overwhelming sense of joy. I celebrate Collins’ courage to be himself in a situation that doesn’t make it easy. People face this dilemma every day, and the struggles that Collins experienced (and will likely continue to experience) every day, but not everyone is a public figure. One of my favorite lines Collins wrote reads, “The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”

In public relations, so much of what we do is finding ways to control the message. Making sure that the right audience sees and hears the right message. I know it may sound terrible, but when I saw a free agent announce his sexual orientation in an exclusive cover of Sports Illustrated, I thought…this is strategic PR. But Collins’ article put my accusations to rest. He is so unmistakably honest. It is easy to feel compassionate towards someone who bares everything, knowing that by doing so, he is welcoming criticism. By the end, I had forgotten all the motives I thought lay behind the swarm of publicity and felt closer to a man I never even considered cheering for.

…and that’s the beauty of PR and branding – if it’s good, you think the message was your own idea!

With that, I’ll leave you with an insightful and supportive tweet from the one and only Fortune Felmster, comedian best known for her regular appearances on Chelsea Lately:

FortuneTweetforCollins

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Suspending World Peace?

Huffington Post Sports reported yesterday that Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) was ejected from last night’s Lakers-Thunder game for a “flagrant foul 2” when he elbowed James Harden of Oklahoma City.

Late in the second quarter, World Peace raced across the court to dunk on Kevin Durant. An exciting play…and even more noteworthy due to the events following. In celebrating his dunk, World Peace backed up, facing the crowd, beating his chest. He payed no mind to Harden standing behind him after his dunk and his elbow flew right into Harden’s head. Immediately following, a fight nearly broke out among the players. While the refs were deliberating the consequences of the play, World Peace appeared to be telling one of the refs that it was an accident and he was completely unaware of Harden’s location at the time. However, if you look at the video above, he clearly bumps into Harden before swinging his elbow. And once, his elbow knocks out Harden, World Peace continues to celebrate while Harden falls to the floor.

In response, World Peace issued a statement via ESPN:

“I got real emotional and excited, and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with the unintentional elbow. I hope he’s OK. Oklahoma, they’re playing for a championship this year. I apologize to the Thunder and James Harden. It was just unfortunate.”

Later ESPN noted he tweeted:

“I just watched the replay again….. Oooo.. My celebration of the dunk really was too much… Didn’t even see James ….. Omg… Looks bad.”

Metta World Peace could be facing a lengthy suspension; the ball is in NBA Commissioner David Stern’s court. Pun intended.

Suspension or not, World Peace is facing some serious scrutiny. The former notoriously aggressive player attempted to transform his image when he changed his name to Metta World Peace before the current season. This incident has seemed to not only amplify the irony of his actions and his name, but also brand him as a lier and a dirty player. It’s going to take a lot more than a statement or a tweet like those (or a name change) to get World Peace back on track in the public eye.

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Hoodies for justice

Today, Huffington Post Sports reported Dwayne Wade and LeBron James posted pictures to Facebook and/or Twitter showing them with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over their heads. LeBron’s picture showed Miami Heat teammates participating in the act of protest. Both posts were in response to the death of a local teenager shot and killed by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. late February. Shooter George Zimmerman said he shot the unarmed  African American, Trayvon Martin, out of self-defense and has not been arrested.

I am not a big Heat fan…AT ALL, but was struck by this team’s efforts to use their respective platforms to bring awareness to the injustice of Martin’s death. In the NBA, players are bought and sold constantly. Players rarely end up in the community they grew up, nor do they stay for long periods of time. Thus, players don’t often have deep connections to the communities they play in. This is natural. I don’t know if this was prompted by the Miami Heat executives, but I like it regardless. Wade, James and their teammates are using their massive social media reach to bring awareness to an injustice in their community, while also showing the Florida community that they care about what’s going on there. This is community relations at its finest. This is just good PR.

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How to be a ‘man of the people’

Today, ESPN posted a video of Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard talking about interacting with fans via Twitter and his future in the NBA. I’m not a huge Dwight Howard fan, but he’s definitely doing something right.

Watching this video reminded me of a post I wrote a while back titled “How not to tweet…for athletes.” It takes more than being an incredible athlete to get lots of followers. Shaq is the most followed athlete on Twitter for a reason; he’s entertaining.

Contrary to what many believe, Twitter is not about spitting out whatever you’re thinking every second of every day. It’s a quick fast way to network and create and foster a larger community. It is a way to interact with people who you wouldn’t normally come into contact with on a more personal level…and a much less creepy one compared to friending or faning on Facebook.

Similarly, Dwight is doing more than just mindlessly creating content and shoving it into the micro-blogosphere, he’s engaging. This is was not only increases followers, but sustains them. And sustainability is key.

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The real king of basketball

Cindy Boren for The Washington Post Sports wrote an article today referencing today’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” on ESPN. Scottie Pippin was the guest and the three discussed who’s better, former Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan or Miami Heat’s self-proclaimed king LeBron James?

Pippen, Jordan’s former teammate, said that James was approaching the same level of greatness as Jordan. This sort of surprised me and got me thinking about branding. When LeBron entered the NBA, he talked about his dream to bring his home team a championship. Then, he left Cleveland for Miami to get himself a better chance at a championship. Yes, he took a pay cut, but that’s not enough to mend the hearts of Cleveland fans.

Jordan has created a brand for himself; he’s a legend. Even if James reaches Jordan’s level, or exceeds it, I don’t know that he will be a legend…legends are loved.

(Here’s what Jason Segel thinks…)

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Good job, Joakim

Has anyone else had it with the derogatory slurs and comments that have been spilling out of the NBA lately? Earlier this month I wrote a post about LeBron’s “retarded” comment. A month before that, Kobe called a ref a “f*&^ing f@##*t” in response to an unfavorable call. Yesterday afternoon, Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 ($50,000 less than Kobe) for directing an anti-gay slur at a fan during game three of the Eastern Conference Finals.

I’m going to set aside my disappointment in these three players, or general distaste (who likes LeBron since he left Cleveland, who likes Kobe except Lakers fans and I haven’t liked Noah since his Florida days), for just a second and say Noah handled this situation rather well.

First he apologized, and he didn’t wait to do it either, he was honest and sincere. Pardon my cynicism, but I think sincerity and honesty are a big deal in professional sports. Furthermore, after the fine, the player admitted that his punishment was fair. In a Forbes article about the incident, Noah is quoted saying, “I made a mistake, learned from it and move on.” People make mistakes and remember athletes are people too, just really famous ones with tons of money. Lets just commend Noah for taking responsibility and holding himself accountable.

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Think before you speak…and after

Editor and weekend blogger for SBNation Andy Hutchins posted an article comparing Miami Heat star LeBron James’ “retarded” comment to Kobe Bryant’s gay slur.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s the story. During a post-game interview on Saturday, James called a reporter (or the question she was asking to Dwyane Wade) “retarded.” A little over a month prior, Bryant responded to an unfavorable call by calling the ref a “f*&^ing f@##*t.”

So while others decide which comment is worse, I’d like to ask the question: why can one be let off the hook? Both slurs were derogatory, offensive and downright disrespectful. And it’s not as if these two are new to the media game. James’ announcement to move to Miami from his home-team of Cleveland was named one of the biggest PR blunders of 2010. Bryant was taken to court for allegedly raping a girl (not his wife) years ago branding him for the years to come. My point is, these boys should know better.

When you’re skating on thin ice, the worst thing you can do is jump.

Last night, James apologized saying, “First of all, I want to apologize for using the ‘R’ word after Game 3. If I offended anyone, I sincerely apologize.” If you offended anyone? Nice try. I’ll give James a little credit for taking responsibility for his mistake, but I’ll also say his apology could have been more sincere. When you’re apologizing for a mistake, the last thing it should sound like is someone is making you say it.

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Happy Mother’s Day. Love, Derrick Rose

“Professional athletes disappoint us all the time.” That’s how Melissa Isaacson started her ESPN Chicago article today about Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose being named the youngest NBA MVP. And truthfully, isn’t that kind of what this blog is all about? But in this case it isn’t about what Rose did wrong, but about what he did right.

Rose stood up in front of countless media, and he didn’t thank his coach, his team, God or credit his own talent. He thanked his mom.

What better PR than a speech straight from the heart. Rose’s speech wasn’t clouded with key messages about the Bulls or hard work or his drive as a player. He wasn’t working for his brand tonight. But isn’t that the funny thing? I sit in class making public relations plans, social media strategies, always thinking about building a brand and staying true to that image. But when it comes down to it, if your brand is true, honest and transparent, there are no key messages haunting your words, there’s just you. And that kind of clarity is the best branding you can’t buy.

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Be Facebook fan-worthy

Artest's profile pic on his Facebook fan page

My classes at the University of Oregon have been discussing social networking a lot lately. So, because it’s on my mind, I thought I would present a little case study, if you will, about how to not use Facebook.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest (or someone who works for him) maintains his Facebook page that could use a few helpful pointers. Here, I’ve put together three rules to follow when in charge of a Facebook fan page.

1. Keep a current picture. Artest’s picture is from when he played for the Houston Rockets. Not exactly current since he was signed to the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2009. This is his only profile picture.

2. Monitor tagged pictures. Some of Artest’s tagged pictures are of him playing, rapping, in ads, little kids wearing his jersey and so on. The real problem comes when people tag him in advertisements that have nothing to do with him. Unless he wants fans to think he’s endorsing a discount show website or random iPhone apps, the tag should probably be removed. Also, pics of girls who want him to call them…delete.

A "photo of Ron Artest" according to his Facebook fan page

3. Spark two-way conversation. Artest’s fan page does not create posts of its own. One of the many benefits of social media is creating a conversation between you (the brand) and consumers. Posing questions and statements regarding sports or rapping or the values of the brand are what position you as a thought leader in your respective industry. Without initiating discussion, the fan page turns into a static wall filled will content created by others unmonitored yet attached to your brand.

If you’re going to commit to social media, you need to commit wholeheartedly. Content becomes outdated much more swiftly on the web, so neglecting it for a week is not acceptable. Above all, protect your brand.

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