When you think of social media and basketball, you think Shaquille O’Neal. He has over 2 million followers on Twitter and about 900,000 fans on Facebook. He is hilarious, innovative, active, and engaging. He was one of the first athletes to get involved with social media and his personality has helped make him one of social media’s biggest stars.
Shaq gets a lot of love for being the pioneer athlete in this space, but people fail to acknowledge the one who came before him and all other athletes: Gilbert Arenas.
In October 2006, Gilbert Arenas began blogging on NBA.com. He used the blog, “Agent Zero: The Blog File,” to complement his entertaining personality by making scoring predictions, writing about his experiences on and off the court, and giving the fans a true look into the life of an NBA star. He interacted with fans, even making bets with them, and got into trouble from time to time for what he said. Most importantly, he was not afraid to push the envelope and he was transparent and honest. He was nothing more than Gilbert Arenas, and that is what made his blog so fun to read and follow.
When Arenas got hurt at the end of the 2006-07 season, his blog began to cool down. He wrote his last post on November 15th of 2008. While he exited the social media spotlight following the injury, Arenas had become the first athlete to succeed with social media. He led the way for Shaq and has barely received any credit.
How the Blog Impacted Arenas’ Career
Gilbert Arenas entered the league in 2001 and averaged 11 points and 25 minutes per game. His numbers rose every year until the 2005-06 season, when he averaged just under 30 points and 42 minutes per game. On December 17th, 2006, Agent Zero dropped 60 points on the Los Angeles Lakers, something only Wilt Chamberlain had done before. He was a rising star for a mediocre team.
Arenas had superstar abilities and a superstar personality, but it was the blog that elevated him to the next level. When Arenas wrote, people read. He wasn’t writing just for Washington Wizards fans. Arenas wanted the blog to help make him the NBA’s biggest name, and he was well on his way to that goal. The blog made Arenas more relevant in the greater sports space, attracting attention outside of his local market including frequent posts on popular sports blogs like Deadspin.com.
In July of 2008, Arenas signed a six-year, $111 million contract with the Washington Wizards (after he declined $127 million over six years to free up money for the team to sign other quality players). Would the offer have been that high without the blog? Maybe not. The blog made Arenas relevant throughout basketball, and that relevancy combined with his exciting scoring ability made him extremely attractive for teams around the league.
Arenas had a way of filling the seats, like the time he predicted he would drop 50 points against the Blazers. He only scored 9, but the game sold because of his prediction. On his blog, he wrote, “Before that day I made that prediction, I don’t think anybody knew who I was in Portland. So by me saying I was going to score 50, about 14,000 people showed up on a Tuesday night.” The Wizards wanted him to be the face of the team and hoped his superstardom would not only help the team build an identity, but also bring them more wins. They simply could not afford to lose him to free agency.
A Final Analogy
Before there was Facebook, there was Friendster. Friendster launched in 2003 and grew rapidly, attracting three million users in the first few months. In 2004, Facebook came along. While its growth was not as aggressive initially, Facebook has completely dominated Friendster and the rest of the social world in the past few years. Today, Facebook has about three times as many users and has made Friendster almost entirely irrelevant, at least in the United States (Friendster is still quite popular in Asia).
Gilbert Arenas is to Friendster what Shaq is to Facebook.
Arenas was revolutionary, as Friendster was, but did not hit at the right time. Shaq, on the other hand, came along just as social media was really booming and has benefited immensely. Arenas was too early and his efforts have been widely forgotten. Hopefully he can return to good health and return to the social media scene. With his personality, basketball talent, and now with the presence of so many tools Arenas never had (Twitter, Ustream, etc), I know he has a chance to make a comeback. Not sure I can say the same for Friendster.