Miami Heat forward Michael Beasley was the star of a lot of internet chatter over the weekend, for putting himself in the middle of a story that to me was about stupidity in photography.
Some young American athlete once stood near something that looks like it could contain marijuana?
Didn't we know that before we saw the photos? (Did anybody here go to college?)
Beasley's Michael Phelps moment does not matter a bit to me.
Except for two things: The scary things Beasley has been feeling (assuming he really is behind that shuttered Twitter account) and the serious help he has sought.
Instead of learning that something goofy has happened with a young athlete and some internet technology, we are apparently learning instead that one of the NBA's better known players is having a terrible time.
We have to consider the idea that Michael Beasley is a seriously troubled young man. In the aftermath of the photograph incident, his Gorillabeas Twitter account (which has been taken down) reportedly had posts saying things like "Feelin' like it's not worth livin', "I'm done" and "I feel like the whole world is against me."
This is where the whole incident become entirely unfunny, and indicative of something much longer term. He had that itinerant childhood of five high schools. There have been whispers or even newspaper articles about off-court trouble at nearly every stop.
Knowing that now he has, reportedly, checked into a facility in Houston for psychological and substance-abuse help ... maybe he never should have been the butt of all those jokes. Maybe he never should have been trotted out there as a gladiator to entertain us. Maybe before all that, he should had some serious treatment, and we all just did a miserable job interpreting the many signs.
Over the last couple of years I have talked to a collection of people who know Beasley well, and I'm having a hard time finding any one of them who is surprised by today's news. So what is the mechanism for a guy like Michael Beasley to get some help before the world collapses around him?
For what it's worth, the Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman reports that Beasley has been in the league's substance abuse program all along.
And it's not like everyone close to him suspected the worst. For part of his high-school years, he lived with Dan Barto, who is a coach at IMG. A year ago, I asked Barto if we should be genuinely worried about Beasley, and he said then:
"I think Mike will be just fine. He probably is making bad decisions and not hiding things from the public. But he is doing nothing worse than many players do on a daily basis. He has been going hard since eighth grade all year all summer with huge weight put on his shoulders and is letting loose of those last five years. Michael is on that border line genius border line insane line with several other great athletes."
Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald quotes Bruce Shingler, Beasley's longtime friend and live-in personal advisor:
"This whole situation was supposed to be super G-14 classified, I think," Shingler said. "He knows he's got work to do. He's a 20-year-old guy growing up in the NBA, with money and fame. It's not easy. But all of this stuff that you hear isn't what it seems like. That's all I can tell you."
I'm not sure what that means exactly. I hope he means it's not as bad as it seems, or those weren't really Beasley's tweets -- but I won't hold my breath. In January, Beasley used similarly troubling phraseology, telling the Associated Press that sometimes he felt "everyone was against me."
There is one other angle to this story, however. It's not about Twitter, but it is about the information age and the changing role of media.
You notice how Shingler sounded shocked that this was all public so quickly? I can't prove it, but I have the feeling that secrets are getting hard to keep in the NBA. For all I know, twenty years ago, dozens of players checked in and out of rehab without mention in the paper.
But in 2009, it's a different story, and this new world of information comes with its own challenges. I hope Michael Beasley is up to facing them.