Did Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have his "Oscar Robertson" moment this week?
Bear with me on this one for a moment.
In case you missed it, Sunday's New York Times sports section carried a wonderful first-person retrospective piece by Robertson, one of the greatest basketball guards in the history of the game. But when he played at the University of Cincinnati in the late 1950s, Robertson was anything but a household name.
That changed after he lit up Madison Square Garden for 56 points in front of the New York media. Unfortunately, the post-game news conference was less stellar. A 19-year-old sophomore from the sticks, Robertson was uncomfortable being on center stage. I'll let him take the narrative from here:
I'm afraid I wasn't a very exciting interview, giving mostly monosyllabic replies and identifying my first state high school championship as my biggest thrill to date. One writer stayed until after all the others had left, and introduced himself as Milton Gross of The New York Post.
"You know, if you're a star, you have to learn how to talk to the media," he said.
"But I don't know them," I replied.
He said he would be willing to give advice on dealing with the press--an offer I was happy to accept--and he became a trusted friend and confidant for the rest of my college and professional careers.
Lesson learned, Robertson subsequently mastered the knack of telling his story to the press with the best of them.
So it was that I found myself wondering about Zuckerberg and his famously press-shy ways. Robertson's column ran the same day as Zuckerberg's now-famous (or perhaps infamous?) interview with Sarah Lacy at the South by Southwest Festival. Enough ink's already been spilled diagnosing the metaphysical implications of that affair. But this much is clear: If Zuckerberg's handlers are smart, they need to sit down with their meal ticket for a frank one-on-one.
Whether he likes it or not, Zuckerberg's being thrust into the public sphere by virtue of who he is and it's time he got over being shy about dealing with strangers.
As long as Zuckerberg refuses to turn over the CEO reins to somebody else, he is going to find himself fair game for the press' fascination with his personal odyssey as the dropout billionaire boy wonder, etc. So what's the deal with the monosyllabic grunts and the similarly brief--but equally frustrating--verbal evasions? Jeez, the guy went to Harvard for a few semesters. I'm sure he can do better.
If Facebook's CEO is to realize his aspirations, the hoodie, aw shucks routine has to go. The silver lining in the Sunday interview debacle was the magnified public attention to all things Zuckerbergian. For a fair chunk of Sunday and Monday, TechMeme morphed into a 24-hour chronicle of his doings at South by Southwest. You can't buy that sort of coverage these days.
Facebook doesn't have the cyber footprint of a Microsoft--at least not yet. But if Zuckerberg learns how to tell the corporate story to developers as well as the media, he'll turn into the most potent marketing weapon Facebook could ever muster.
And there's no reason he can't. After all, Bill Gates once was a nebbish, too.