WASHINGTON - It began when Washington Wizards fans wrote to an Internet fan forum questioning Juan Dixon's defense, calling him a "chucker," and suggesting the club keeps him around mostly because he's a local hero.
The fan who started this now-noteworthy rant called it: "The Amazingly [starts with "S" and rhymes with plucky] Juan Dixon Thread."
But it's one thing to criticize from the relative anonymity of Net postings and quite another to find out that the object of your ribbing is actually listening.
Which it turned out Dixon was.
Nathan Froe, a suburban Washington sales professional, and the other forum fans didn't have an inkling Dixon had taken notice until the former Maryland and Calvert Hall star mentioned the pointed critiques after scoring 35 points to pace Washington over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night to even their first-round playoff series at 2-2.
"A close friend of mine told me to read this message board last night, I guess it's the Washington Wizards message board," Dixon began in a post-game interview on Comcast SportsNet.
The guard continued by identifying the criticism and then saying: "That got me fired up. You know I'm already a self-motivated person. But that took it to another level. ... I definitely wanted to throw that back in their face."
Regular site participants were flabbergasted when they heard Dixon invoke their words. Suddenly, it seemed they were part of the story of Washington's playoff run.
"We were on the chat room and we were stunned," said Wizards fanatic Froe of Alexandria, Va. "I've whined and complained about his defense, the number of shots he gave up in Game 2. I give him all the respect in the world for using that as motivation. We wish all the players - especially Kwame Brown - would read the message boards and take some hints."
Dixon's starring role came after he had shot 1-for-10 in the previous game - earning him catcalls on the forum. "He is not and will never become a good NBA player," one fan wrote.
The Dixon criticism appeared on www.realgm.com, which features articles, fan message boards and software that some NBA teams use to navigate the league's collective bargaining agreement when contemplating trades. The Dixon thread also appeared on an affiliated site, wizfans.com.
Most professional athletes don't seem inclined to pay attention to fans' taunts or criticism. Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has been known to sign on to a Sox fan message board, the Sons of Sam Horn.
"It used to be they [athletes] tried to prove the sportswriters and columnists wrong," said Jason Rosenthal, 28, a Washington-area public relations executive who is content supervisor of the "wizfans" site. "We've reached the Internet age, so maybe we'll see more of this."
He added: "I never thought they [would] take anything written there too seriously. Really, the [thread] was written in jest and all in good fun. Dixon might have said it motivated him, but in reality, he really just wanted to tell the fans who doubted him to stuff it."
The forum's contributors relived their big moment yesterday.
"I had never heard a guy say the name of a message board thread before," said Kevin Broom, a senior writer for realgm.com. "I've heard them say, `Fans are saying `X' about me.'
"The posters are definitely taking credit for it. Everybody is kind of tickled about it," Broom said.
Said one forum poster: "I think we feel a little bit powerful right now."