At 30 years old, Caron Butler has been around long enough to remember a time when land lines, beepers and two-ways were considered top of the line technology. "I can still remember being in elementary school in 1986," Butler said. "I had a teacher that said by 2010 there would be a computer in every household in America. It's crazy how technology has just taken off."
As technology has evolved, the NBA has been at the forefront. In Washington, Wizards coach Flip Saunders installed a video playbook on iPods (and later iPads) and distributed them to players. In Dallas, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle puts his plays on a chip that players install in their laptops. The Rockets utilize in-depth statistical analysis in scouting reports that tells players where an opponents weakest spots are on the floor. Updates on practice times and flights are done exclusively via text message and detailed itineraries are emailed before the season. "There's no more 'I didn't know what time' excuses," said Grizzlies forward Shane Battier. "It's all out there documented in cyberspace."
Social media -- particularly Twitter -- has invaded NBA locker rooms. Approximately 225 players have active Twitter accounts, from superstars like LeBron James (@KingJames, 2.2 million followers) to end-of-the-benchers like Anthony Tolliver (@ATolliver44, 6,400 followers). The NBA's official Twitter (@NBA) has more than 2.7 million followers, the most of any professional sports league. The use of Twitter has become so frequent that the league has banned players from tweeting 45 minutes before a game until after the postgame interviews with the media are completed.
"Guys in the locker room are always on their phones," Butler said. "I don't know if it's just an NBA thing, but we're always texting. With Twitter, it's easy to hop on and say 'had a big game' or 'had a rough one tonight' and communicate with other people."
In some ways, Twitter has become the ultimate instant trash-talking tool. After Cleveland took a 55-point beating from the Lakers last January, ex-Cav LeBron James tweeted "Karma is a b---h." Nuggets guard Ty Lawson, after an altercation with Suns guard Goran Dragic, tweeted Dragic "just couldn't handle getting cooked out there on [the] court." During college basketball season, Butler says he directs good-natured shots at players whose alma maters lose to UConn.
Of course, Twitter does have its drawbacks. "Twitter is the most amazing thing and the worst thing," Battier said. "People are literally inside your phone, which is very close to being inside your home. It's invasive in every part of your life. It's dangerous."
Some players have learned that lesson the hard way. Gilbert Arenas was suspended 50 games by the NBA and dropped by adidas for, in part, mocking an incident where he brought unloaded guns into the locker room on Twitter. Stephon Marbury posted a video on Twitter showing him eating Vaseline. Michael Beasley tweeted that he was "Feelin like it's not worth livin." Magic GM Otis Smith called the use of Twitter by players "the dumbest thing a professional athlete has ever done." Said Battier, "With more technology comes more responsibility.
Still, new technology has changed how -- and how often -- players communicate. Whereas players might have once exchanged one or two phone calls a week with friends around the league, now the interaction is almost daily. Interactions with players from opposing teams can be as simple as "good game" or a request for a quick scouting report from a friend on a future opponent.
With teammates, it has created a constantly open line of communication. "It's become so much easier to keep in touch," Battier said. "During the season you don't text or tweet at guys much. But in the offseason, technology has made it much easier to stay in contact with guys, to see what they are doing. That builds camaraderie."
As technology continues to change, NBA players will continue to try to keep up. "I never used to be into gadgets," Butler said. "Now I'm in the app store and searching the Internet to see what else is out there. There are so many new things, I think we are all just waiting for that next invention."