Can you imagine Stephen Curry in the locker room, mobile in hand, looking for ‘tweets’ about him and even answering them while Steve Kerr gives the last instructions before resuming the game? It is not science fiction, it is a scenario that has surely been repeated many times. The Warriors star was active even on breaks. In fact, he ‘liked’ a message from NBC reporter Grant Liffman before the third quarter began during a scoring exhibition against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The NBA competition rules prohibit players from uploading content to social networks during the course of matches, but allow the use of electronic devices as long as it is not on the benches. For this reason, seeing the stars of the competition consulting their mobile phones during the break of the matches, while they are being treated by the physiotherapists or just before the warm-up, is something that has become very normal in recent times.
The usual picture when one walks into an NBA locker room in the minutes before a game (journalists have access to the dressing room) is that of 12 guys sitting next to their lockers with a phone in hand … and sometimes two . “After a game, regardless of the result, many of them are quick to open Instagram and scroll through their feed”said Kevin Durant on Portland player CJ McCollum’s ‘Pull Up’ podcast. “I am always on Instagram,” he acknowledged.
‘Zombies’ with their mobiles
“You can see everyone as ‘zombies’ looking at their phones, trying to see what’s going on and if they’ve missed anything“explained Caron Butler, a former NBA player for 14 seasons, in the New York Times. The forward referred to his colleagues’ obsession with social networks and mobile devices.
Some of them have no problem acknowledging their addiction. “I do not think it is a necessity to come to rest and start looking at the mentions on social networks, but rather it has become a habit,” said the player Spencer Hawes, now without a team, when asked about that situation . “What do you do when you’ve been away from your mobile for a while? You consult it and see if someone has written to you. I do not think that the rest of a party is a different situation in that sense.
Al Jefferson, who was his partner in Charlotte, bows to the evidence: “I am not very fond of telephones during game breaks, but times change and mobile phones are part of people’s lives now“, he explained, trying to downplay an unimaginable situation 20 years ago and which has become everyday.
Curry’s digital blackout
Stephen Curry, one of the league’s most media players, described how it was a ritual to read the comments people made about him during games. “I must have a sick mind. To be honest, it’s pure entertainment for me,” he acknowledged years ago on the NBC Sports ‘Dubs Talk’ program. “I try not to affect me too much whether I play badly or if I do well, because in both cases I always try to do my best. When I read them I find it funny how it changes that they want to throw me off a cliff if I have a 0 of 8 in triples, or I am not shooting well, to a night like the one with 53 points chasing Chamberlain’s record, in which he failed practically nothing, “he said.
However, the Warriors star gave up that habit during the 2015 Finals, in which the Warriors conquered the ring against the Cavaliers from LeBron James (4-2). His opinion about it changed because he saw that it could affect his performance. “When everyone watches your game every night, letting you get an iota of negativity or a terrible comment, especially before a game or during halftime or something like that, is probably not the best decision you can make“he explained to Mercury News to justify his digital blackout.
Disengaging is complicated
Like any addiction, getting rid of it is not easy and is sometimes traumatic. JJ Redick, a former Sixers, Pelicans, Mavericks player and current ESPN analyst, can attest to this, as he did something unprecedented in the NBA in his day. He removed all the social media apps that he once worshiped. Goodbye Twitter, goodbye Instagram. All his accounts disappeared overnight. Even the private Instagram one, which only his close friends and family had access to. He had tried to quit social media many times, but had never succeeded before.
He, like so many other people, needed the daily hit of ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ to feel important and followed. And watching the barrage of comments on his phone was his great (and almost only) entertainment. Redick eliminated them from his life forever and was clear why: “It is a dark place. It is not a healthy place. It’s not real. It is not a healthy place for the ego … if we relate it to the whole Freudian thing. It’s just a cycle of anger and validation and trivia. It’s scary man“He acknowledged in an article published by Bleacher Report.
Feeling fear of missing the news, what specialists call the ‘FOMO’ state (fear of missing out), is the mental state that forced him and many people hooked on the networks to constantly update their usual applications. In his case they were some like Business Insider, HoopsHype and Twitter, and he did it to get information and news, whether they were related to the NBA or not. “I hate to admit it, but if at any moment you’re at a stoplight and your phone is within reach, you pick it up. It has become instinctive. Even if you leave your mobile in another room, you are always aware of where it is. It has become an extension of you. That’s fucking scary, “he acknowledged then.
Millions of followers
The NBA, a pioneer in so many aspects of modern sport in terms of marketing and global outreach, is also at the fore when it comes to social media. In fact, It is the sports league in the United States with the most followers on Istagram (60.1 million), ahead of the NFL (21.7), the MLB (7.9) and the NHL (4.9). And his official Twitter account has 60.1 million followers. In the NBA there are more than 30 players with at least two million followers on Instagram. In the NFL, only nine.
In that facet, LeBron James takes the cake, with 50.4 million followers on Twitter and 103 million on Instagram, more than NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL combined. The Lakers star is also the king of social networks in the NBA and one of the most followed athletes on the planet, where he occupies the fifth position. Ahead of him on Instagram are only Cristiano Ronaldo (354), Leo Messi (273), Neymar (162) and Virat Kohli (160), an Indian cricket player.
In the NBA, far behind ‘King’ James, are Stephen Curry (36.7) and Russell Westbrook (18). AND Nobody makes more profitable in that League his interactions in social networks than the star of the Lakers. A recent study based on the growth, engagement rate and frequency of branded content from NBA players with the most followers revealed that LeBron earns $ 343,000 for every Instagram post. His advertising, even if it is subliminal, to his 103 million followers, is paid at the price of gold. Behind him, far behind, are Curry (66,000), Irving (59,000) and Durant (48,000).
Insults … and racism
That profitability that LeBron James brings to social networks must compensate him for the thousands of insults he receives every day from his ‘haters’. According to a recent Pickwise study of the most vilified athletes in that context, the Lakers star lidera the unfortunate ranking after receiving 122,568 humiliating messages, with insults or abusive language towards him, between June 2020 and June 2021. Or, what is the same, 336 messages with insults a day.
To put that number in perspective, the second player in the rankings is Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, who received 32,328 such messages in the same time frame. That is, four times less than the Lakers player, who receives 110,811 times more offensive messages than Cristiano Ronaldo (11,757), the eighth on that list. The third most insulted is American football legend Tom Brady, with 28,151 mentions of this guy, and the fourth Kevin Durant, star of the Brooklyn Nets (24,370). Although more worrying than this intolerable lack of education, perpetrated from the cowardly anonymity that the networks also offer, is that 16 of the 20 athletes who receive the most abusive messages on social networks are black. There is another problem of racism.
Jordan: “I don’t know if I would have survived social media in my time”
Michael Jordan, the best of all time, would have been a ‘trending topic’ on social networks every other day if he had played at this time. And not just because of the wonderful things he did on the court. He knows it and luckily he didn’t have to live with so much digital interaction. “I don’t know if I had survived the social networks in my time,” confessed ‘Air’ in an interview, after pointing out how important it is in these times that the player knows how to manage them as part of his job. “This is what happens to Tiger Woods, for example. In this era of Twitter you do not have the privacy you would like and some comments seem to be very innocent and can always be misinterpreted,” explained Jordan, always jealous of his privacy, something that today day it is practically impossible to protect with nets. The six-ring champion and current owner of the Hornets is clear: “I want my life to be my life.” It’s not a unique concern of the Bulls legend, but he shares it nonetheless. “It is a time of great tension and anxiety for the players. And I think it is a direct consequence of social networks,” declared the myth of the Bulls.
CHANGE THE NUMBER AS A TACTIC
The telephone has become an essential object for NBA players, as essential as documentation or a credit card. But that dependency takes a toll, and more for famous guys and millionaires like them. Athletes have to control their privacy a lot through mobile. “Imagine walking down the street, knowing that every person you see wants something from you,” said an executive from the League’s Players Guild of America. “Selfies, interviews, investment money, a video for a bar or a birthday nephew. And what better way to access an NBA player than by looking up his personal phone number?”
What do you do when everyone wants your number? If you play in the NBA, you change those digits often. “People find yours and start calling you,” Hawks star Trae Young explains, admitting the ease with which player numbers are sometimes passed around after media interviews or through friends. “So I change mine all the time, every five or six months.”
Pacers center Myles Turner acknowledged that he changes “a lot” in numbers … but not as much as others. “Some guys, like Paul George, change it almost every week.” Knicks veteran Taj Gibson says he’s had “a lot of teammates who change their numbers all the time.” Eric Bledsoe, point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, has six different numbers. “I can never remember which one is correct,” he says.
Enes Kanter, who has played for five teams since being drafted in 2011, noted that veterans rarely give their phone to their younger teammates … and when they do they go with instructions: “You tell the rookie, ‘Put it away. at home, don’t show it to anyone, not your wife or your girlfriend, and wear it when we go on tour. “
Other players hope that tricking unwanted callers will save them more time. Sometimes, seeing an unknown number, Myles Turner hands his cell phone to Pacers physio Andrei Mikhailau. “They hear his Russian accent and say, ‘Oh, it’s probably not Myles.’ Other times, for incoming FaceTime calls, he asks a team video assistant to remove his Pacers jersey and answer. “They pretend they have no idea who I am,” Turner explains. “That is easier than having to change my number.” l