Meet Bobby Marks, NBA free agency's breakout Twitter star
The former Nets' assistant general manager has rapidly built a following among serious NBA observers with his sharp analysis.
BY PAUL FLANNERY, SBNATION
When Bobby Marks was an assistant general manager with the Nets, he'd often have lunch with Mike Tannenbaum of the Jets and Omar Minaya of the Mets. The trio of executives would talk shop and bounce ideas off each other. They'd talk about the pressure of working in New York and the reality that, at some point, it would all be over. When Marks and the Nets parted ways in late May, Tannenbaum was one of the first people to call him.
"For the next three days you're going to get a lot of phone calls and emails and texts and it's going to be all adrenaline," Marks recalls Tannenbaum telling him. "By Monday, it's going to be your family and the stragglers who forgot to call you. And by the following week it's not going to be anybody."
It was a strange feeling for Marks, who had joined the Nets as an intern in the PR department in 1995, where he would clip newspaper stories and write press releases. Willis Reed was the general manager at the time and when Marks' internship was up, Reed asked him to stick around for a few more months. He had been with the team ever since.
Marks worked his way up the ladder beginning with Reed and on through the various tenures of John Calipari, Byron Scott, Rod Thorn, Ed Stefanski, Lawrence Frank and Billy King. Well liked and respected in league circles, Marks became known as an expert on the collective bargaining agreement and earned high marks for his creative abilities with the salary cap. When the Nets let him go he suddenly had a lot of time on his hands.
He went home to North Jersey and took his kids to school and helped with their homework. He worked out and went to the grocery store. For the first two weeks of June, he experienced life without a cell phone attached to his hand. It was kind of nice, actually.
"I love working in the NBA, but it's such a grind," Marks said. "Wins and losses dictate how you talk to your kids and how you have a conversation with your wife. If you go out to dinner with another couple, you're on your phone the whole time. Just to get back to civilization a little bit. If an opportunity came by from a team I would definitely look at it if was the right thing, but I'm not one to get a job just to get job. The media thing is real intriguing for me."
Ah yes, the media thing. The media thing started when Ian O'Connor, a fellow Marist grad, asked Marks if he'd come on his radio show. That went well and then he did a hit with a station in Greenville, South Carolina. That also went well, so he reached out to others in the business including Marc Stein, who helped set up an appearance on SportsCenter.
"I had never done TV before, so I said 'sure,'" Marks said. "The executive producer told me, ‘Don't look at the camera, have a conversation with the person you're talking to and have an opinion. You'll be fine.'"
And he was. He did a spot on the Fox Business channel and then ESPN asked him to come back for another series of segments. He was visiting his in-laws in Florida at the time but decided that he couldn't pass it up. He booked a flight to Hartford with a layover in Charlotte, rented a car and arrived in Bristol in time for the show. It was all a blur, but things were starting to happen. Marks continued doing radio segments leading up to the draft and then he took to Twitter. Or more accurately, Twitter took to him.
Marks started tweeting out general thoughts and philosophies on team building, which, in turn, built a small audience that appreciated the insight from someone who had been on the inside. He was so new to the game that his wife asked him why he wasn't using an app for his phone. On the Monday before free agency began he had a little less than 1,000 followers. After a few RTs from media members praising his insight, Marks started to build an online audience.
"My computer looked like a slot machine in Las Vegas," Marks said. "It was unbelievable. By Tuesday I had 2,000 and once free agency started I thought, ‘You know? There might be something here.'"
By week's end he was over 20,000 followers and growing rapidly. Marks isn't breaking news and he tries to toe a careful line on criticism, although he's been critical of DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers' handling of the saga. Still, he's found that there's a demand for accurate salary cap information and clear-headed analysis in the chaotic free agent environment. In less than two weeks, Marks has become a must-follow among serious fans and writers. Agents have asked him to pitch their players and a few teams have even asked him to walk them through a complicated cap maneuver. In short order, he's become a different kind of insider.
"My thing is, I'm not a reporter. I'm not breaking stories," Marks said. "If they break it I can analyze it for the fan out there and give it to them in layman's terms on how it works. Little by little it's grown into a phenomenon. It's been neat."
A little more than a month after being let go from the only job he's ever known, Marks is taking the long view. He'd like to get back in the league, but the media thing has opened up new avenues and possibilities. For now, he's taking everything in stride.
"From June 1 to June 15, I didn't even take my phone out of the car," he said. "When I was with the Nets it was 40 emails a day, or calls. It was a really hard adjustment after being on that treadmill for so long. And then jumping off and figuring out where life is going to take you. This stuff, a lot of it's been therapeutic for me."
A few minutes after we ended our phone conversation, Marks was back on his Twitter grind, explaining the cap ramifications of LeBron James' new deal. It received over 1,200 RTs and counting.