In an ad for crypto exchange FTX starring Stephen Curry earlier this year, a narrator repeatedly portrayed the NBA star as a “crypto expert.” The legendary player keeps denying this, eventually stating: “I’m not an expert, and I don’t need to be. With FTX I have everything I need to buy, sell and trade crypto safely.”
“Sure” is now questionable. This week, FTX declared bankruptcy, its CEO Sam Bankman-Fried resigned, and many investors who trusted the platform are wondering if they’ll ever get their money back.
A number of other top athletes also appeared in ads for FTX, including NFL star Tom Brady, who received an equity interest in FTX and became an ambassador for the company in a long-term partnership. The company even bought the naming rights to the Miami Heat’s home arena.
But it’s not just the FTX chaos that’s affecting big sports stars. Elon Musk’s tumultuous takeover of Twitter also had an impact, as eminent figures like LeBron James were trolled by users pretending to be them thanks to a new, easily abused authentication feature. The turmoil shows that elite athletes are not immune to the confusion and upheaval that is wreaking havoc on the tech industry.
This week, a tweet that appears to have come from James, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, announced: “I’m officially requesting a trade. Thank you #LakersNation for all of the support over the years. On to bigger and better things!”
The Nov. 9 tweet looked authentic due to a blue tick next to the name “LeBron James” on the @KINGJamez Twitter account. His real account is @KingJames.
Another fake account led baseball fans to believe that MLB pitcher Aroldis Chapman had re-signed with the New York Yankees, when in fact he remains a free agent.
The confusion arose courtesy of Twitter Blue, an $8 monthly subscription service launched under Musk that comes with a blue check confirming previously flagged accounts were legitimate. Shortly after launch, fake accounts flooded Twitter. Not only athletes, but also politicians and companies, including Eli Lilly, were quickly impersonated by trolls.
As of Friday, the Twitter Blue option appeared unavailable, and Twitter said it was working to address impersonation issues.
But it wasn’t the first time the $44 billion acquisition of Twitter by Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” caused a stir in the sports world. In response to a nearly 500 percent spike in racial slurs immediately after Musk took control, James tweeted, “I don’t know Elon Musk and to be honest, I don’t care who owns Twitter. But I will say if that is true then I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF. So many bloody inept people say hate speech is free speech.”
musk replied James through on Oct. 30, by sharing a Twitter employee’s tweet that “almost all of these accounts are not authentic” and that the company is working to ban users “involved in this trolling campaign.” Ironically, James was then impersonated the following week thanks to Twitter Blue abuse.
FTX a sports marketing heavyweight
FTX spent hundreds of millions of dollars on sports marketing as it headed for a sudden and surprising collapse this week, including $135 million on the Miami Heat arena naming rights. The team and Miami-Dade County parted ways with FTX on Friday and are seeking a new naming rights partner.
Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers quoted the Stadion deal while comparing the FTX collapse to the Enron scandal: “Not just financial failures, but – certainly from the reports – a touch of fraud. Stadium names very early in the company’s history. A tremendous explosion of wealth that no one understands exactly where it came from.”
FTX also became MLB’s official crypto exchange, signing endorsement deals with NFL quarterback Trevor Lawrence, tennis star Naomi Osaka, and MLB pitcher Shohei Ohtani.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had harsh words for Bankman-Fried this week. Speaking Friday at a conference in Washington, DC hosted by Sports business journalhe said:
“First you have to understand crypto,” he said. “There’s speculation – that’s all the noise. Then there are things that happened to me [crypto lender] Voyager, and now with FTX – that’s someone running a company that’s as stupid as it is bloody greedy. So what does Sam Bankman do? He just gives me more, gives me more, gives me more, so I borrow money, loan it to my affiliate and hope and fool myself that the FTT tokens that are there on my balance sheet will get their worth.”
Cuban himself was criticized earlier this year — and faces a lawsuit — for collaborating with now-bankrupt crypto lender Voyager Digital and giving Mavericks fans a $100 reward for trading crypto on Voyager if they Deposited $100 and traded $10.
Sign up for the Fortune Features Email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews and investigations.