TORRANCE, Calif. — I sat down Monday with the head of the FBI for a wide-ranging, on-the-record conversation about violations and illegal activities that are, far too often, going unchecked in America.
No, not Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
I chatted with Devin Williams, director of the Federal Basketball Investigators.
He’s the man behind the dark shades in the viral videos critiquing NBA players for often uncalled rules violations, the guy who has started gladly answering to what’s typically a term of derision: “Snitch.” As in, No. 1 Ranked Snitch Ref.
If you haven’t seen the videos yet, think of a montage of basketball highlights — except that they’re montages of lowlights.
Collections of egregious traveling, carrying over and double-dribbling sequences committed by some of the NBA’s biggest stars, from LeBron James to Kevin Durant, it’s the stuff basketball purists will climb atop their soapbox to proclaim this, this is what they despise about the modern NBA!
What Williams — er, the No. 1 Ranked Snitch Ref — is doing by proclaiming “the sport of basketball is cooked” is not not that. But it also really isn’t that.
What is it then, when Williams, in character, calls out the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant for carrying the basketball: “I love my son, I ain’t never carried him that long …”?
It’s an all-time joke’s on you.
Or when the Snitch assesses the Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and his penchant for traveling, asking pointedly, “He’s out there dancing salsa?”
It’s a most satisfying I know you are but what am I???
When he lets it be known he has a bone to pick with Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland for all the times he’s gotten away with traveling — “literally traveled to Europe …”?
First-team trolling from one of the best in the internet game, because Williams often literally is quoting the comments previously left for him by anonymous internet trolls.
Williams, 34, has taken that negativity he — and anyone with a substantial online presence — has been subjected to and not only flipped it but capitalized.
He’s used them to grow his own already-healthy brand. He’s gotten positive responses from a host of NBA players and others, such as Snoop Dogg. Williams has begun monetizing the videos with sponsorships, including one with Underdog Fantasy, a sports betting app.
He’s even in the process of spinning even more content out of his hit critiques. And he was paid to put together a montage on NBA on TNT hosts Shaquille O’Neal, Candace Parker and Jamal Crawford that aired Tuesday.
It’s all a joke to Williams, and a good one — with an additional layer: His act might actually be changing the way people watch basketball.
I’ve certainly noticed myself counting players’ steps more closely than ever before. And it could be a coincidence, but the NBA’s officials are trying to place an added emphasis on calling traveling this season — in a game last month, officials whistled players for traveling 14 times.
The Clippers’ Nicolas Batum says he sees it: “It’s not like they’re changing the rules. It was always there. It’s good that they’re calling it.” Whether or not officials are calling it enough or fairly remained up for debate in his locker room.
For Williams’ part, he defends the officials: “The refs make less mistakes than the players do.”
But that won’t stop him from snitching when people tweet at him, sharing clips of players of all ages and skill levels caught in the act of traveling, carrying or double-dribbling and asking for a video breakdown or just for his thoughts.
Williams said he’s even more aware of his own rule-breaking tendencies: “Through this FBI thing, when I play basketball, I’m conscious of carrying now. I’m like, ‘Uh-oh.’ ”
The videos, all about a couple of minutes long, are narrated by Williams — who, by the way, was kind of a big deal in the basketball world before his new persona blew up and made him an even bigger deal.
One of the original and preeminent internet basketball personalities over the past decade and change, Williams said that since he began posting his mini-manifestos late last year, his follower count on social media has doubled.
As of Wednesday evening, the Gardena native had more than 157,500 Twitter followers. On YouTube, some 633,000-plus users are subscribed to Williams’ “In The Lab” page, a hub for videos that range from training tips to spotlights on local up-and-coming hoopers to videos analyzing what pros do well.
It’s also where you can find his “10000 HOURS” docu-series. Expertly produced, behind-the-scenes videos that follow players’ basketball journeys as they train with Williams, they’re similar to the project that made him a surprise internet sensation a decade ago.
Then a Division II college basketball player studying editing at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Williams couldn’t afford a hard drive to save footage he was recording for a “day in the life” class project, so he uploaded it to YouTube.
That footage — he’d recorded all the sessions with the first two young players he trained and called it “Ten000HOURS,” a nod to Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master an endeavor — found a viral audience Williams hadn’t expected.
He hadn’t anticipated finding he had a passion and knack for teaching hoopers, either, but he embraced the role along with his newfound audience, which continued to grow as his reputation as a trainer has, his following extending as far as China. Williams’ company “In the Lab,” has become so popular, it has its own clothing line, complete with a signature shoe.
“I used to draw pictures of basketball shorts and shoes, what I wanted my clothing to look like … and somehow I got that,” said Williams, who wore “In The Lab” sweats as he reclined Monday between sessions of weight training and basketball at Jump Beyond Sports in Torrance.
Before they got on the court, Williams and about 10 players, who began gathering at 8 a.m., worked to bolster their vertical jumps to the rhythm of Parliament-Funkadelic and Chaka Khan — a soundtrack provided by the elder statesman of the group, trainer Gil Thomas, who introduced himself as “The Dunkmaster.”
When he was done on the court, Williams said he’d return home to work on editing more Snitch footage, harnessing his haters’ energy into something productive, another new and totally unexpected way to promote both himself and the game he loves.
“The thing I think about is this, all the time: I spent 10 years trying to do everything right, make positive content, inspirational content. But the moment that I started doing like the troll stuff, it blew up,” said Williams, who plans to keep his toddler son, Sky, off of social media for as long as possible.
“There’s the downside of social media. But there’s a lot of upside too, if you just start to tune things out. And just my thing now is I’m just gonna make what makes me happy.”
Him, me, and a whole lot of others.
And anyone hating? Funny thing, they’re delivering the punchline that Williams is taking to the bank.