Source: NBA to unveil policy this week

Updated: September 27, 2009, 12:56 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The NBA will this week introduce what it considers "minimal" guidelines for players, coaches and team officials when using Twitter and other social networking sites, according to sources with knowledge of the policy.

The primary restriction of the policy is expected to prevent various team representatives from tweeting during games, after the stir caused late last season when Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, then with Milwaukee, tweeted from the Bucks' locker room during halftime.

One source described the forthcoming policy as "very minimal" and "less stringent" than the guidelines announced earlier this month by the NFL, which now regards players, coaches and football operations personnel -- or any third party representing them -- to be in violation of league rules if they use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook from 90 minutes before kickoff through the end of the standard post-game access period for media interviews.

Individual NBA teams, though, will have the right to impose their own standards that might be more strict, as seen with the NBA dress code where some teams in the past have mandated more formal apparel -- such as suits on team flights -- than league rules dictate.

The source said that the NBA's new policy, furthermore, will treat social-networking commentary in the same manner as comments made in the traditional media, which means that anyone in the league can be fined or otherwise sanctioned for posts via Twitter, Facebook, etc., that are deemed over the line.

Villanueva was not fined by his team or the league last season but was forbidden by Bucks coach Scott Skiles from tweeting again during games. Mobile-phone usage in the locker room and on team buses has long been frowned upon in the NBA, but the severity of restrictions generally vary from team to team given the rise in recent years in texting and e-mailing from handheld devices.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban received the NBA's first-ever fine for comments he made via his Twitter account, when Cuban was docked $25,000 last March after complaining about the referees' refusal to call Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith for a technical foul following a clash between Smith and then-Mavericks guard Antoine Wright.

The league did not announce the fine, but Cuban disclosed the punishment via his Twitter feed, revealing that it could no longer be said that "no one makes money from Twitter now" because "the NBA does."

Asked if the Mavericks will impose their own Twitter restrictions on their players this season, Cuban said Sunday: "Not really. I will talk to the guys about never venting or talking about team business on Twitter. That's usually what creates problems. [But] Twitter is just another form of media. What you say on Twitter is like saying it on ESPN."

Formal confirmation of the new policy is expected from the league office this week after teams are officially notified. The NBA Players Association has likewise said that it will withhold comment until details of the league's policy are announced.

The NBA is widely considered to be one of the major professional sports leagues most associated with Twitter usage, largely thanks to Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal, who responded to a Twitter user pretending to be O'Neal by launching his own Twitter feed, which now boats more than 2.3 million followers.

Other Twitter landmarks in the NBA besides Villanueva's halftime tweet include the June disclosure by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love that coach Kevin McHale was leaving the organization -- before the news had been reported anywhere else -- and Allen Iverson's numerous tweets about his summerlong courtship and eventual signing with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics