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For NBA players, is it MySpace or just lies

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SEATTLE (MCT) - Just signed up to MySpace.com. I hate to drop names, but I'm friends with LeBron James. The other night 'Bron -his friends call him 'Bron -and I spent hours online debating about his favorite performing artist.

He said Usher tops his list because he's part owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he also "throws mad love at P. Diddy" and he's tight with Jay-Z, who he has on his two-way. Wow. Cool.

Then Dwyane Wade joined in. I wished him luck on rehabbing his shoulder. He said he'd holla back at me the next time he's in Seattle. Seeing as how anyone can connect with their favorite athletes in cyberspace these days, I dropped in on Kobe Bryant. Apparently, KB-8 -for some odd reason that's what he called himself -is friends with presidential candidate Barack Obama, rappers T.I. and Juvenile and a woman named KR who posted a sultry picture of a young woman on her site but claims she's a 97-year-old Texan. Her motto: "I would rather go naked than wear fur."

OK, that's a little weird, but I have to admit that MySpace is way cool. Back when Seattle first began its relationship with professional sports, fans could cozy up to their sporting heroes at the local watering holes and in the supermarkets.

The 1979 NBA champion Sonics went so far as to invite 100 fans to fly on the team charter plane for Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Landover, Md., against the Washington Bullets. Peggy Nielsen, one of the lucky fans, described the trip as fun and memorable.

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"During our flight the entire Sonic team mingled with the fans and even would sit down in the aisle next to us at times just to visit," Nielsen wrote in an e-mail. "I asked Fred Brown if he wouldn't mind taking my Sonic pennant around the plane to have the team sign it."

Of the return trip, Nielsen wrote: "It was an exciting flight being with the new NBA champions and getting to touch the championship trophy."

When I was a kid in the 1980s, the divide between fans and athletes began to grow. Charles Barkley once threw a guy through a plate-glass window at a tavern. Then things really got ugly and slid down a slippery slope to our current state of affairs, defined by bodyguards, gated communities, the Malice in The Palace and Tracy McGrady's irrational fear of New Orleans.

Now there's MySpace, a free social-networking Web site where close to 160 million people communicate without fear of violence or mayhem.

The night after hanging out with 'Bron, DWade5 and KB-8, I sat down with Ray Allen before his game against the Los Angeles Clippers and told him about my new friends. That's when the Sonics guard and Chris Wilcox, who was within earshot, began snickering.

"What?" I said.

"That wasn't LeBron or Kobe," they said.

"Whaddayamean? Of course it was them," I countered. "And it's 'Bron and KB-8."

"Man, I supposedly got a page, too, but I've never seen it," Wilcox said.

"I got three or four of them, but they're fake," Allen said. "They claim to be me or people who know me, but never in my life have I been on that site."

It's true. Allen has three sites on MySpace. On one of them he purportedly writes: "I'm sorry if you have sent me a message and I have not responded, but I have a lot on with my hands with the All-Star stuff and all so if you do leave me a message my assistant manager is always on my profile so he'll answer questions if he knows the answers . . . Ray."

"That's not me," the real Ray Allen said. "I don't have time for that stuff. I got a baby at the house. . . . Those things are for kids."

Aw man. This MySpace is a waste of time. I should have known. That P.Diddy reference was a dead giveaway. Any true friend of the rap mogul knows it's simply Diddy these days. But then, 'Bron seemed so real. He, she or whomever knew everything about the real LeBron James. And the site claimed to be official.

So I called the folks at MySpace and left a message. No one has returned my call as of yet.

"And they won't," said Eric Goodwin, an agent who represents Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford. "We've been working with them to remove some fraudulent sites, but it takes forever. Basically, they told us that they have no control over their content."

Robinson has 7,518 friends and Crawford has 6,990.

"I don't know, maybe he'll see it, but I can guarantee that he's not the one responding," Goodwin said. "None of these guys are."

Well, that's not entirely true.

It's impossible to know for sure, but some players -I'm told most are international players -use sites such as MySpace to find female companionship. It's not so uncommon. Last week, a Cincinnati Reds baseball player supposedly posted an ad on craigslist seeking "a woman to enjoy the morning with" while he was in Florida for spring training.

Then there's Carmelo Anthony, perhaps the first athlete to post with MySpace. His site is legit. He says so. So does the Web site. The Denver Nuggets' forward built a page on the site earlier this year on which he advertises sneakers, sells merchandise and displays photos of his charity work.

"Everything these days is going to digital space, and if you're going to maximize your business opportunities, you have to be connected to that space," Anthony's agent, Calvin Andrews, told the Denver Post. MySpace is the world's sixth most popular site, and it's third in the United States. Anthony hopes to create a friends list of 500,000, which he could parlay into a marketing bonanza.

So far, he has 38,060 friends, including rapper The Game and comedian Katt Williams, who extend well-wishes and encouragement.

On Feb. 26, someone called Triple -Fs sent a picture of a curvaceous rear end and a caption that read: "jst showing some luv . . . stay blessed always."

Like I said, this MySpace stuff is so cool.

(c) 2007, The Seattle Times.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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