When Social Media Makes It Harder To Achieve Celeb Super-athlete Status

Kobe Bryant recently sparked a debate when he intimated that the current U.S. senior men’s basketball team could have beaten the famed Dream Team of 1992. For sports fans and talking heads, it’s the best of topics: inexhaustible angles and no tangible way to settle the argument. 

But for marketers, it raises an important question about hero worship: what if the Dream Team of 1992 were subjected to social media platforms as are the athletes of today? 

In light of this year’s Olympics, we thought it would be interesting to imagine a parallel world in which the Dream Team of ’92 is exposed to the power (and pitfalls) of social media. 

Here are two inter-related areas that would be most impacted:


The early ’90’s brought us the rise of the celebrity super-athlete. And the formula was proven: spin a persona for a given star, make them “more than just an athlete,” add some great TV spots, make the sneaker an object of desire, shoot a poster to own the kid’s bedroom wall, and off we go. 



But with the tools of today, Gatorade’s “Be Like Mike” may have been a crowd-sourced jingle. Or perhaps it would have included beats served-up to be mixed on a smartphone app by users, and the final track voted on based on “likes” on Facebook. 

Would Mars Blackmon and Mike Jordan have had competing microsites? With traffic driven by their respective Facebook pages? Fans could help us ultimately decide if it’s really gotta be the shoes or not?

I suppose the real question isn’t whether the campaigns of the day could have been enhanced or driven deeper with social media tools. They most certainly could have. The deeper question is whether some of the stars of the day would have made it untarnished to Madison Avenue with cameras and eyes and bloggers everywhere. 

Image Management

It’s a question we can ask it in this parallel universe: Was it harder or easier to become a celebrity super-athlete back in the day? 

How would Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement have been different in light of today’s social media tools? That news remains one of the fastest-spreading stories of my lifetime, and I can only imagine what kind of jet fuel Twitter would have added. Certainly, the announcement would have eclipsed the tweets-per-second records set by Super Bowl XLVI (10,000 tps) and Euro Cup 2012 (15,000 tps).

And what about his Airness himself? There are, of course, the well-travelled rumors of carousing, to go with the legendary taste for games of chance. How long until someone came forward via Facebook or with a twitvid or a “cookie jar” photo? And how might this have affected his image in the flyover states? 

In sum

I believe it’s harder today to achieve celebrity super-athlete status. There are simply more reporters and news outlets, and they move too fast. Plus, everyone with a smartphone and a Tumblr page is a “journalist,” too. 

Indeed, today’s athletes are walking a tightrope. That’s why you see more of an emphasis by their camps on things like closed sets. No cell phone pics. No overtly controversial statements. There’s simply too much to lose. 

And I believe with the tools and platforms of today swirling around them, the Golden Boys of ’92 may have been a little less golden. 

Except maybe Larry Bird – seems like nothing much would have changed with Larry Bird.  

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