Commentary

Me? Tweet? Never say never!

Originally Published: April 23, 2011
By Michael Wilbon | ESPN.com

Wilbon-Twitter CartoonDrew Litton/ESPN.comFinally, our man is screaming on Twitter. After all, he was surrounded. What else could he do?

I'm too old to be influenced by peer pressure. But here I am, opening a Twitter account after two-plus years of vowing I would never, ever tweet.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the value of Twitter: its facilitation of social interaction and engagement; its instant delivery of ideas and information and news; its ability for anybody regardless of station in life to be his or her own publisher, in essence.

[+] EnlargeShaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Eric GayBack in 2009 when he was with Phoenix, Shaq was promising to tweet at halftime of Suns games.

I remember like it happened yesterday the first time I ever heard the word "Twitter." It was February 2009. I was in Houston for a Rockets-Suns game when Shaquille O'Neal was playing for Phoenix. Shaq was electronically inviting people to find him if they wanted tickets to the game that night. I remember saying to him, "Shaq, what the hell are you doing?" And he said, "Bro, I'm tweeting."

I'd never heard of it, never heard the word. Shaq -- and I remember this like it happened yesterday -- said, "Bro, if I was one of your bosses at ESPN and you didn't get on Twitter, I'd fire you. How you gonna be relevant?"

Shaq gets the confluence of sports, entertainment and personal communication as well as any professional athlete since, probably, Ali. Early on, he understood better than most how social networking was going to further endear him to an audience starved for more personal communication with celebrities. And it turns out, 26 months later, that Shaq was completely on the money.

But I had no interest in Twitter for a number of reasons.

One, there's way too much of me already. "PTI" coming at you 200 times a year is a whole lot. Then I'm running my yap on ABC and ESPN's basketball shows, then radio, and I'm writing a column here a couple of times a week. Why would anybody need 140 more characters from me several times a day?

Second -- and there's no way to say this without sounding dismissive, but here goes -- I don't care about 90 percent of the stuff people are tweeting about.

Third, I live in complete fear that I'm going to tweet something that I think at the time is smart or insightful or at the very least totally harmless, and it's going to offend somebody somewhere and get me fired. Kornheiser's only reaction yesterday when I told him I had opened a Twitter account was, and I quote, "This is going to come back to bite you in the ass." Thanks for the love, Mooch.

Anyway, since Shaq's first warnings, Twitter has gone from a novelty to necessity. Increasingly, I was late to the party regarding what athletes were saying and stories my colleagues were breaking. There's a guy @mikewilbonsaid who tweets (I'm told, because I had no way of knowing myself) thousands of things I say. Dwyane Wade thought I paid him to do it, which -- trust me -- I do not. Luckily for me, and to my complete amazement, @mikewilbonsaid has been 100 percent accurate to my knowledge, and I encourage him to continue, because I'm not about to make Twitter the center of my universe.

If I listen to Spurs GM R.C. Buford, I'll follow more than I tweet, because Twitter has become essentially a way to tailor a newsfeed, depending on who you follow, and it seems everything in the NBA from updates to healthy scratches appears first on Twitter.

In terms of my contribution, I have absolutely zero idea how I'm going to approach tweeting. I'm not going to break news via Twitter like some of my colleagues at other websites and newspapers. If I come across something important, I'll get it on one of ESPN's platforms before I tweet it. (That's the law 'round here!) I'm not going to engage in dialogue with Twitter followers for the purpose of eliciting interaction, the way my friend Darren Rovell of sports business fame does.

[+] EnlargeBarack Obama
AP Photo/Alex BrandonIf it's good enough for the president, it's good enough for Mr. Wilbon.

I have no game plan at this point, other than to not tweet something that will get me canned. So you'll please forgive me for rarely answering specific questions via Twitter. I've got way too much mouth on me, as my mother used to say, and nothing good can come from questions that annoy me. I'm already blaming the people who, inadvertently or not, have led me down this path. I'll start with Rovell, a fellow Northwestern University alum, and several of my close friends, including Stuart Scott, J.A. Adande, even my assistant Khaleelah who apparently doesn't understand that this encouragement could lead to career suicide.

Magic Johnson and I agreed last spring to never ever tweet, but by the All-Star break Magic was tweeting his brains out and I was left standing there looking like a doofus. Magic can't be more than a couple of months in, yet he's a prolific tweeter. He's piling up tweets like they're triple-doubles.

What's clear is that following sports, much less covering it, demands that you pay attention to social media in ways none of us who do this for a living imagined just five years ago. I remember how offended some members of the "mainstream media" were several years ago when Tiger Woods broke news of some decision or another on his own website. You'd have thought it was the end of the world. Now it seems to be the preferred method of both expression and distribution for folks from the locker room to the White House.

So, as the new saying goes, I'm all-in. Well, mostly in. The only bad thing about having so many followers is that people are going to expect something either smart or insightful or hypercritical or LOL funny. We'll see if the audience finds reason enough to stick around.

Or, in the case of some of you, regrets what you've asked for.

Michael Wilbon is a featured columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is the longtime co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN and appears on the "NBA Sunday Countdown" pregame show on ABC in addition to ESPN. Over the course of three decades with The Washington Post, Wilbon earned a reputation as one of the nation's most respected sports journalists. You can follow him on Twitter @RealMikeWilbon.

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Pardon the Interruption co-host
Michael Wilbon is a featured columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is the longtime co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN and appears on the "NBA Sunday Countdown" pregame show on ABC, in addition to ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter: @RealMikeWilbon