The antisocial has become social #mambatweets— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 4, 2013
Since then, Bryant has established himself as a social media savant. He's racked up well north of 800,000 Twitter followers, all the while using his account to dispense wisdom and diffuse locker-room feuds.
Which got us to thinking, what if Twitter had come into existence long before 2006? Suppose the Internet had existed when the BAA and the NBL first merged to become the NBA in 1949, and that Twitter creator Jack Dorsey had been around to make 140 characters the standard for mass communication?
Surely, the NBA, long known to employ outspoken eccentrics and loud-mouthed attention hogs, would've been home to many more a serial tweeter than it already has been.
If Kobe's such a great follow now, can you imagine how great Michael Jordan would've been in the Twittersphere once upon a time?
Jordan was the most media-savvy athlete of his day. He almost singlehandedly transformed Nike from a small clothing operation into a revolutionary sports apparel magnate. He racked up endorsement deals as if simply by breathing, starred in feature films (SPACE JAM!) and showed up in national advertisements next to giants from within (Larry Bird) and without (Spike Lee) his particular arena.
MJ was a crossover pop-culture/sports personality like the world had seldom seen, thanks in no small part to the expansion of mass media over the course of his career. He practically owned the '90s, both on and off the court. Just imagine what "His Airness" would've done with his own personal feed of dispatches to the public.
As great as MJ might've been on Twitter back in his heyday, his online exploits likely would've paled in comparison to those of his opponent-turned-teammate Dennis Rodman.
Keep in mind, the Hall of Famer has been an active Twitter user (@dennisrodman) for some time. But the five-time NBA champion would've been at his most entertaining during his playing days in The Association.
From his off-court escapades with the likes of Madonna and Carmen Electra and his non-stop partying (even through the 1997-98 season with the Chicago Bulls at the age of 36) to his myriad bodily modifications (hair, tattoos, piercings, wedding dresses, etc.), Rodman was practically the definition of eccentricity.
Think Metta World Peace to the 10th degree...save for the name change, of course.
What's more, "The Worm" went on to play professionally in (among other places) Tijuana, Finland and the UK; wrestle in the nWo; star in not one, but two movies next to Jean-Claude Van Damme; and featured in several TV shows, including a short-lived talk show on MTV called The Rodman World Tour.
On second thought, Rodman might just as easily have gotten himself banned from Twitter (if not the NBA) had such technology been available at the peak of his public powers.
It's a shame that Charles Barkley doesn't have his own official Twitter feed. The fact that the current TNT personality has spawned so many parody accounts (including the popular @NotChuckBarkley) speaks to his brilliance as a font of weirdly-worded wisdom and his potential for social media mastery.
Of course, Barkley's big-mouthed manner began long before he took a seat behind the desk in Atlanta next to Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. He was never afraid to sound off during his playing days with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets.
Like Rodman, Barkley was an undersized power forward whose aggressive (almost Napoleonic) style of play seeped into bouts of fisticuffs, both on and off the court.
Physical altercations aside, Barkley was a man who knew full well the power of the spoken word when he was in the NBA. He was named to the league's All-Interview Team after each of his final 13 seasons as a player, and he was among the biggest critics of the athlete-as-role-model archetype.
If nothing else, the fact that Barkley sports so many nicknames (Chuck, The Round Mound of Rebound, Sir Charles, etc.) despite never winning a title speaks volumes of the cultural cachet he accrued in his time.
And likely would've put to good use via Twitter, assuming somebody taught him how to use it.
Not to spend too much time reminiscing about the '90s, but wouldn't it have been fun to see what Gary Payton had to say back when he was locking guys up on the court, most notably with the Seattle SuperSonics?
To be sure, "The Glove" currently has a Twitter handle (@GaryPayton_20) and uses it rather tamely. He's used it to comment on the Seattle Seahawks, the potential return of the Sonics and fellow Oakland native Damian Lillard (among other things) in recent weeks.
Still, it doesn't require much of a leap to envision a man regarded as one of the most prolific trash talkers in NBA history using a free and public mouthpiece like Twitter to goad his peers during his playing days. If Stephen Jackson could take his beef with Serge Ibaka to the Twittersphere, then, surely, GP wouldn't have been afraid to dog his rivals, 140 characters at a time.
Surely, there were plenty of Twitter-worthy Hall of Famers who played during the '70s and '80s, but any list of potentially entertaining social media personalities would require at least some representation from guys who starred in the '50s and '60s.
Among that group would have to be none other than Tommy Heinsohn. The player-turned-coach-turned-color-commentator for the Boston Celtics has long been regarded as something of a motormouth with a penchant for partying.
To be fair to "Tommy Gun" he was far more than just a blustery buffoon. He won eight titles in nine seasons with the C's and led his old club to the 1976 title from the sideline.
But, realistically, his greatness on Twitter would've been aided most by his wild style, both on and off the court. He was a glue guy in the locker room who practically lived to play pranks on his teammates and was known to get into shouting matches with legendary coach Red Auerbach.
When the game was over, Heinsohn would frequently indulge his vices, smoking and drinking in a manner that would leave many professional athletes today out of work simply on account of the adverse health effects.
At the very least, Bostonians get to enjoy hearing Tommy's outlandish comparisons between yesterday's legends and today's role players, as he did last season in describing Greg Stiemsma's timing on blocked shots in Russellian terms.
As for the rest of us, there's always NBA League Pass...and Heinsohn's current Twitter feed.
Speaking of Bill Russell, how do you think the greatest champion in NBA history would've fared in the world of social media?
In some ways, it's tough to picture him engaging in anything as closely associated with self-aggrandizement as Twitter. Russell was the ultimate team player, someone who always put the greater good of individual interests and was admired by all who knew him for doing so.
But, in other ways, Russell would've been perfect for the platform, if more as a one-way dispenser of wisdom and opinion. He was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the '50s and '60s, having blazed a trail as the NBA's first black superstar while enduring untold abuse in a city (Boston) that was hardly regarded as a bastion of racial harmony.
Surely, if Russell could fight through unending taunts, jeers and threats in real life during his playing career, he'd have little trouble brushing aside whatever low-minded abuse might've been headed his way from the ever-vitriolic Twittersphere.
On the positive end, Twitter would've give Russell a sounding board on which to dole out tidbits of competitive wisdom and voice his opinions on the prevailing social changes of his day.
Frankly, Bill Russell's chief "rival" would've been a much more natural fit in the Twittersphere.
And by "rival," I'm referring, of course, to Wilt Chamberlain.
Talent? Check. Wilt is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to ever take up the game of basketball, and might've been the best ever had he prioritized it to a greater degree.
Giant ego? Check. Chamberlain was known to chase after statistical achievements to prove one point or another. For example, he led the league in assists in 1967-68 to demonstrate that he was unselfish...even though his motives for doing so were likely of a selfish variety.
Crossover significance? Check. He began his playing career as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. After he retired from the NBA, Chamberlain starred in Conan The Destroyer alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Andre the Giant.
Mythical figure-ness? Check. Wilt's 100-point game has only become more improbable with each year that passes without a challenge to it. The same goes for the tall tales about Chamberlain's off-court escapades.
Nicknames? Check. Wilt had a host of them, including Goliath, Wilt the Stilt and the Big Dipper.
If Wilt were alive today, he'd surely be on Twitter. And if Twitter were around in the '50s and '60s, you can bet he'd have a handle, perhaps even for erstwhile purposes.