- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The NBA formally announced its new social media guidelines Wednesday, informing teams through a league memorandum that the use of cell phones, PDAs and other electronic communications devices -- and thus accessing Twitter, Facebook and similar social media sites -- is now prohibited during games for players, coaches and other team personnel involved in the game.
The league has defined "during games" as the period of time beginning 45 minutes before the opening tip and ending "after the postgame locker room is open to the media and coaches and players have first fulfilled their obligation to be available to media attending the game."
"During games" also encompasses halftime, according to the memo, but the new guidelines do allow players to engage in social networking during the pregame media ccess period that starts 90 minutes before tipoff and lasts for 45 minutes.
Coaches and team executives are expected to largely welcome the league's edict, as they generally frown upon mobile-phone use in the locker room and on team buses, although the severity of restrictions generally vary from team to team given the rise in recent years in texting and e-mailing from handheld devices.
The league's announcement also included the expected caveat that teams "are free to adopt their own rules relating to the use of electronic communication devices and social media sites and services during practices, meetings and other team events."
The Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams this week that have already announced a stricter ban on social networking than the league's rules, essentially forbidding it on anything regarded as "team time."
Yet the NBA's guidelines, relating to team personnel, are only applicable to coaches and other basketball-operations employees involved in an actual game. League spokesman Tim Frank on Wednesday confirmed to ESPN.com that front-office employees who are watching a game from the stands, for example, are not precluded for posting during games via their Twitter and Facebook accounts, nor are owners.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban responded with an immediate "no" Wednesday when asked if the league's new guidelines would curtail his Twitter activity.
In March, Cuban received the NBA's first-ever fine for comments he made via his Twitter account when he was docked $25,000 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. That is believed to be the league's only Twitter-related fine to date.
The league office, to enforce its new policy, intends to keep treating social-networking commentary in the same manner as comments made in the traditional media, which means that anyone in the league can be fined for posts via Twitter, Facebook, etc., that are deemed over the line.
The NBA is widely considered to be the North American professional sports league most associated with Twitter. One of the chief catalysts for that link is 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 boasts more than 2.3 million followers.
"Don't apply to me," O'Neal said of the new rules when reached Wednesday night by ESPN.com, referring to the fact that he generally tweets when he's not with his team.
But the fact that players, if allowed by their teams, can engage in social networking during the league's traditional pregame media access period would appear to back up the NBA's assertion that its policy, in the words of one source, is "less stringent" than the guidelines announced earlier this month by the National Football League.
The NFL 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 postgame access period for media interviews.
Corresponding guidelines in the NBA have been anticipated for weeks, largely because of the stir caused late last season when Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, then with Milwaukee, tweeted from the Bucks' locker room during halftime. Before his first practice with the Pistons this week, he proudly referred to the forthcoming guidelines as the "Villanueva Rule."
"We'll have strict rules on it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier this week. "Social media, we will not accept that in our building during office hours. That's the way we'll look at it when we're coming to practice, to shootarounds and to games. We're coming to work and we're coming to get a job done. That's not time for social media."
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told the Los Angeles Times on Monday: "The minute you're on our property, there's no tweeting. . . . They can do it, but they'll be fined."
In Miami's case, there was no protest from Heat star Dwyane Wade, who ranks as one of the NBA's most popular tweeters with nearly 100,000 followers.
"When you come to work, you come to work," Wade said. "You can tweet before, you can tweet after. It's not addicting like where I'm going to take a bathroom break, go downstairs and tweet. I think people take it a little too far with that. But I think it's very good to have communications with your fans personally. A lot of people, you can see them in a different light."
The other significant rule change announced Wednesday by the league, according to the memo obtained by ESPN.com, is aimed at cutting down on the growing frequency of players standing while they're on the bench.
Starting this season, league rules dictate that players will be required to remain seated on the bench while the ball is live except to "spontaneously react to a notable play [and] immediately sitting down on the bench afterward" or "to approach the scorer's table to report into the game."
The memo states that "players will not be permitted to stand [in front of] the bench at any other time while the ball is in play, including standing for the last minute of a game or standing until the team scores its first point in game."
The league says it is instituting these restrictions "due to the numerous complaints that the NBA and its teams received from fans during last season" and is threatening "fines imposed upon the offending team" for non-compliance.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
The NBA has banned electronic communications and social media sites during games.