To the extent that it’s a story, this is the story: a recent Knicks-Celtics game got rather feisty, and there were elbows, shoves and Armand Assante-grade seething intensity between the two teams and their respective stars, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett. Anthony followed Garnett to the Celtics locker room after the game, then waited for him outside the Celtics bus afterwards. The NBA was not happy about this, and suspended Melo for a game. Some plucky fellow took some grainy, sub-Zapruder video of the non-event outside the bus. It was a big deal, and it wasn’t.
But what you probably remember about all this, if you remember it at all—it was last week, after all—was the rumor about what Garnett said on the court that led Melo to wait for the wrong team’s bus. This, supposedly, being, "Your wife tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios."
So there was that, and the attendant intimations of intimate relations between Garnett and the still-Mrs. Anthony. It was specific and jejune and gossipy and exceptionally Twitter-ready and pretty dumb and mostly improbable. So, then, perfect for New York's tabloids, and the internet.
The first website to run with this tale was blacksportsonline.com, and they were on it quickly. The original source for the story, though not credited in the article, was a pseudonymous New York sports gadfly answering to the handle of “Incarcerated Bob.” If this happened, Incarcerated Bob is the one who knew it first. Incarcerated Bob, it turns out, knows a lot of things.
I’d actually wanted to interview Bob for a while. Even before L’Affaire Honey Nut, he was already something of a cult figure in the self-contained micro-society of Sports Twitter. He started out as a frequent caller on the Boomer and Carton radio show, on WFAN 660 in New York, where the hosts bequeathed Bob his nickname as a result of a nine-month bid he served in an upstate correctional facility after an altercation with a New England Patriots fan during the 2008 Super Bowl. He then became a public figure by becoming the first to break stories—or anyway, to tweet them—including, but not limited to: Darrelle Revis ending his holdout, Peyton Manning signing with the Broncos, Tim Tebow going to the Jets, and the finalizing of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks.
Bob has had his share of face-plants as well, as you’d expect. But he’s more than just a source of rumors/information/gambling advice that claims to be a well-sourced insider. He is that, too, but his “fame” was due to the persona that he’d woven out of all those 140-character strands. He’s a bully and a brute, quick to block and mock any and all that dare to question the validity of his source(s), his prowess as a prognosticator, or his status as “a guy who knows things.”
Like bloggers at both ends of the political spectrum, Bob delights in eviscerating the so-called mainstream media for their perceived failings; Mike Florio, of Pro Football Talk, is a common foil, which is kind of a nice way of saying that Bob routinely calls him a clown and/or a chump. Bob’s accurate tweets and predictions are chest-thumpingly retweeted ad nauseam, often accompanied by verbal and physical threats and the hashtag #IBN, an acronym for the “Incarcerated Bob Network,” as if his one-man tweeting operation were a nascent media powerhouse.
In short, he’s the Lord of both a self-made online protectorate with reams of devoted followers (around 121k as of this writing) who reside comfortably within his cyber fiefdom and an equal number of restive, pitchfork-wielding detractors who loathe his braggadocio and claim with equal parts disdain and mockery that he’s the sports-chatter equivalent of Ann Coulter: someone who will say whatever it takes to garner attention, facts be damned. He is, then, the sort of person who would not or anyway could not have existed before the Internet. At the least, his fame would be limited to being the plugged-in and sketchy-seeming guy glowering in the corner of a sports bar, counting betting slips.
So he’s a priest or a clown, a supremely well-sourced outsider or a goofball who has figured out the not-at-all-well-guarded secret that, if your only goal is to draw attention to yourself, straight making shit up works. It is maybe not surprising that he didn’t want to talk in person.
This was frustrating, if only because I wanted to find out if he looked like the imposing, muscle-bound figure that appears in the image (at right) that has served as his avatar on and off over the last couple of years. I couldn’t help but speculate that, in reality, behind the photo lurked an ectomorphic, pockmarked, asthmatic 17-year-old white kid from Chautauqu, or a morbidly obese chain-smoking, differently-gendered Catfish, or a drunk Mike Lupica. This was all before the Manti Te’o Thing, mind you. Incarcerated Bob practically demands this level of disbelief.
Alas, no matter what carrots I dangled, Bob just didn’t want to meet up, and so we spoke on the phone. A voice doesn’t begin to tell the entirety of a person’s gestalt, but going by the dialect on the other end of the line, Bob is, in fact, an African-American male and a New Yorker. Contrary to his online and on-air persona, he came across as humble, thoughtful, genuine and pretty darn credible. That said, ours wasn’t as much a conversation as it was a monologue punctuated by my occasional pivot.
So tell me your story.
Basically someone that loved sports, grew up in it. Have some family members that are actually in the business. Some that are in the marketing with some teams. Just, you know, grew up as a big Yankee fan, Islander fan. Jets. Knicks. Sports has been my life since about 4 or 5 years old. I played some baseball in high school, played some hockey. Hockey, not really, nothing competitive, competitive, just some pick up stuff.
And now you make your living as a professional gambler?
Basically I’ve been gambling since I was early twenties. I started off real bad. (Laughs) Started off really bad. I needed some bailouts from my father. (Laughs) As the years went by I progressed. I started learning some, um, some information from some people on how to dissect lines that come out from Vegas. How the money moves. How the, uh, you know what they’re really looking at. How the public money influences some line movements.
It becomes a challenge sometimes, with uh, not really knowing the teams, because that’s basically—a lot of people that gamble think they know sports. So they’re like, ‘Oh, this team’s supposed to win’. But see, when you’re gambling, you can know all the sports you want, you can know all the teams you want, but you gotta dissect that line. And there’s a lot of things that go on, like, why they make certain lines so appealing to one side, you know.
We spoke briefly about why the line for the Broncos-Ravens Divisional Round game was so high, and how said line helped Vegas to turn a large profit. I opined that the league had a vested interest in a Brady-Manning AFC final, to which Bob segued into his thoughts on the NBA:
I’m very into a lot of conspiracy theories. If you follow my twitter, you know. I already think the NBA is the most fixed sport there is, you know, on this side of the WWE. When you watch it, you’ll see teams like the Heat just give up in the fourth quarter. Or the refs will make certain calls. Like they played the Blazers the other night. They should have killed the Blazers They had seven minutes left and they completely shut down and LeBron stopped going to the hole. There’s things where I KNOW.
People will say to themselves, well LeBron makes so much money, why would he gamble? I know personally, athletes that make five-ten mil and they’re still gambling. I know them personally so, I laugh at people who say that. A lot of them don’t do it just to make money; a lot of them do it for the rush, for the action. I’m not saying LeBron is throwing games. So don’t quote me on that. I’m just saying, people in general who say, “Athletes don’t gamble.” It’s not true. You think Barkley just started gambling when he retired? C’mon.
Like I said, I have family members who are older obviously and they’ve been around athletes from the 80’s when all of that was going on. Like, Jordan retired not because he wanted to go to baseball or cause his father passed away, he retired because [NBA Commissioner David] Stern told him there was something that was going to come out. Get away from the game and let it blow over. The Pete Rose thing had just happened. They didn’t want that big problem and the NBA was making a lot of money in the '80s and they said to Jordan, go away for a little bit, and he did.
So, that is where we are with Bob: talking to a character who lives inside a worldview that he inhabits passionately, and which is informed by unnamed sources that he trusts. Where I have doubts about the NBA’s many dubious moments, Bob has answers, or just one answer: “These refs,” he told me. “They’re told. They might not be told with like Stern calling them, but believe me, they get the message. Every NBA game, these refs get pre-game scouting. They get a message, from the league, of what to look for.”
A simple answer might be that the league is just reviewing game tape, seeing things the officials have missed and are trying to improve the quality of the officiating. A simpler answer might be that some top-down fix is always in. It may not be correct, but if that were the case you’re trying to make, Twitter would definitely be the place to make it. Bob knows this.
“I was getting information from everywhere once my name started getting out there, I would have to let some information not even be posted until I knew they were a real source.” he told me. “And I’ve met probably over four or five guys that are involved as scouts in the NHL. I’ve got one guy who was a defensive coordinator. He was my source for an NFL team. He just took a job in Buffalo so you probably know who it is. I just probably broke some news on your site, right now.” If former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who was recently hired by the Bills, is indeed a Bob-source, then we probably did. (We've asked Buffalo for comment on this, and will update if and when they respond.)
“He was the one…they thought they had Nnamdi.” Bob said, in the sort of shorthand that assumes I know (as I do) that Bob stated with characteristic certainty that Nnamdi Asomugha, then a free agent and now as then a cornerback, would be signing with the Jets. “Everyone gets on me—oh, you missed the Nnamdi thing. Well, you know what? Every media guy missed it as well. The source at the Jets said, ‘He’s not signing with the Cowboys. So if it’s not the Cowboys, it’s us.’ Nobody had Philly. I’m in the rumor business. Of course you’re going to miss some. Some other guys don’t do it because they’re affiliated with big stations. They can’t put their stuff out on the line. I can because I don’t give a shit."
Bob is more dangerous when he’s right. “Floyd Mayweather. I’ve actually put up some big bets he’s made,” Bob says. “I’ve actually had where, um, one of the NBA refs who was a ‘guest’ at his at one of his training events. That NBA ref happened to be a ref that was on the one of the playoff games that [Mayweather] won for like five or six million dollars or something.”
By way of proof, he proudly sent me a “Dear Sir” letter from the NBA threatening a five-figure defamation lawsuit for that tweet. Bob added that he ignored the letter, never deleted the offending tweet and never heard back from the league’s lawyers about it again. The stern letter is addressed to “Incarcerated Bob.” The NBA’s lawyers don’t know his name, either.
Which brings us—or, really, brings Bob—to the Honey Nut Cheerios/Melo incident. For one thing, Bob is still thinking about it. “Black Sports Online stole it,” he fumes. “You can print that. They definitely stole my shit. [Black Sports Online writer Robert Littal] seemed like a stand up guy, but whatever.” (The original Black Sports Online report doesn’t credit Bob’s tweet, and claims to have confirmed the claim—itself presented vaguely, via a jpeg of a box of Honey Nut Cheerios—“with several sources who were in attendance.”)
But back to that night. “I was watching and Carmelo’s really trying to go after KG and I’m like, ‘Why are they even beefing?’ So I made a few calls and guy at MSG Security told me, an MSG Security guard texted me and said, ‘KG said some foul shit.’”
“So I texted back," Bob continues, "‘Well, How foul did he say?’" Told him his wife tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios.’ And I’m like, get the fuck outta here. That’s some funny shit. ‘No, he really told him like it’s serious, like, implying that he did something with his wife.’ Okay. Somebody asked me on Twitter at one something in the morning what happened. Then it just went viral.”
They’ve all denied it since then, I say.
“Doc Rivers, of course he’s gonna back his guys. If you see Carmelo, he just said something was said. He never denied it,” Bob says. “If Honey Nut Cheerios wasn’t mentioned, Carmelo would’ve said ‘Look, you guys got the Honey Nut Cheerios thing wrong.’ How does Doc Rivers know? He isn’t on the floor with them. The only way the security heard, is because the security guy, he does the locker room. And he heard Melo yelling on, saying something about what was said to some of his teammates. So there’s your story.”
Well, there was a story, at least: a wildly colorful and entertaining one, and so one that richly deserved its virality. I tried to prod Bob for information, but we wound up talking in generalities, about KG’s rep as a trash-talker supreme and the rumored difficulties in Carmelo’s marriage. Bob didn’t know any more than what the security guard told him. I gave Bob ample opportunity to prove that he would, as the worst opinion of him holds that he would and does, say anything in hopes of increasing the Incarcerated Bob profile. That didn’t happen and instead, we ended our chat like any Knicks fans would—two guys talking about the challenges facing our favorite team.
After a 45-minute conversation, I still didn’t have an ironclad answer to the question that spurred this inquiry. Maybe KG actually stated that another man’s wife tastes like a yummy breakfast cereal; it was the security guard, in the locker room, with the candlestick. Then again, maybe he didn’t. It’s hard to know, too, whether Bob’s an actual insider or just a web archetype: a big-talking, know-everyone know-it-all. Everything he said made sense, both by its own internal logic and per internet-standard I-know-a-guy-who-heard-it sourcing. Then again, what kind of con artist would he be if it didn’t make sense? A con artist sells us what we want to be true, and makes us want it. Whether what he says is true or not, Bob does this very well.
And if it is just a carefully crafted fiction, it’s also unclear what—beyond some attention and some Twitter followers—Bob has to gain from all of this. He states that he’s had multiple offers to “go mainstream,” but that none are of particular interest because he’s not going to “sell out.” He didn’t elaborate, and it’s hard to know what he might mean by that. But if the endgame were a financial windfall, it seems likely that he’d have cashed in his chips by now. He seems too savvy a gambler not to have done so, if in fact he could have.
But maybe that’s not what he’s playing for. Bob, I think, might be in it for a particularly American and especially contemporary reward: the ability to invent or reinvent oneself in the only frontier left, to push farther out into the great unknown, and stake a claim out there on the wild parts of the internet with a few well-placed and well-timed (and maybe, for all I know, well-sourced) words. There, out on the virtual frontier, he and anyone else can erase X years of history, class, race, gender—all of it—and make something new.
I don’t think Bob’s a fraud. While I’m not particularly fond of the hero he’s crafted for the action film he lives online—in the last couple of days, he jumped into an odd little beef between SNY on-air personality Adam Schein and Snooki, of all people, flinging weird, misplaced threats of violence against the latter’s reality TV paramour, Jhonni—I do like the guy I spoke to on the phone. I have a feeling that had he agreed to a sit-down, I’d have liked him even more.
Who I would have met, had we met, is something I can’t be quite sure about. But not once in our long conversation did he tip my bullshit-o-meter into the red; if he’s probably a bit different in the world than he is on the Internet, that’s also true of all of us, and it doesn’t make him Ronaiah Tuasosopo. But I did sense that here was a Twitter persona that both exceeded and was an incomplete portrait of the real human being behind the keyboard. Like Hunter Thompson’s Raoul Duke, the “Incarcerated Bob” imago is one that Bob has no choice but to inhabit. After I hung up, I couldn’t help but feel that Incarcerated Bob is, as Kathyrn Bigelow might put it, a fictional composite “based on a true story” that might have been more interesting than the embellished version.
Illustration by Maddison Bond.