The NBA is one of the greatest spectacles on the planet. It routinely pits some of the greatest athletes against each for 1230+ games a year, giving fans no shortage of highlight reel dunks, magical assists, and hilarious post-game interviews. It’s the talk of the barbershop and the school classroom, with people everywhere, casual fans or diehard, replicating the moves on the court and fashion off of it. This year, the NBA had to compete with several other sports when it usually would not, leading to ratings that weren’t on par with last year’s. Ratings are never a problem though, with the social media engagement through the roof and content being produced and consumed more than ever. The NBA has no problem engaging with fans over social media.
NBA social media does have a problem downplaying its own content.
Exhibit A: Stephen A. Smith
What other professional sports league is constantly criticized in the social media bubble that’s supposed to be dedicated to the sport? The NFL suffers its fair share of “flag football” comments from the occasional old-school traditionalist, but those guys probably have CTE themselves. Instead, the media largely consumes the product on the field and analyzes it, creating a cycle of entertainment that is fun for every fanbase. Guys can argue with each other and it’s usually something new or fun, even if it is divisive or controversial. There’s always been a level of competition to it, but the NFL pundits don’t have the same roller coaster of mood swings that NBA pundits do.
Stephen A. is a largely respected and talented on-air personality. He’s boisterous, knowledgeable, and flat-out entertaining. Not as wild as he used to be with his hot-takes and expressions, Stephen A. Smith still puts out the odd criticism of some of the best players in the league.
The claim that the NBA is soft now is an outright lie. Players are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before. Are there more rules to ensure player safety and prevent massive fights? Sure. But much of the criticism of a “soft” or “friendly” league is unwarranted. Teams have always tried to build super teams – not like Kevin Durant and the Warriors, fuck those guys – but players would try to entice other players to join their team to help them win. People are always so quick to forget their favorite players are all friends. Don’t lie to yourself. Why are you trying to downplay the content today? Do you want to make the league tougher by taking out some fouls? Do you want to see less technicals? What do you want?
Exhibit B: Skip Bayless
Skip Bayless is known for his hot takes and unapologetic attitude on TV, like a lot of sports personalities. But unlike a lot of other personalities, Skip Bayless produces just as much head-scratching social media content that would confuse a casual fan who just wants to follow along on Twitter.
If Stephen A. is trying to convince us that basketball nowadays will never be as good as it used to be, Skip is trying to prove that passing the ball to a wide-open teammate is… bad? Honestly, I don’t know what Skip is trying to say here other than he wants to see some late game heroics by LeBron James that, frankly, isn’t a realistic depiction of any winning team that came before. This famous shot of Kobe made the rounds on Twitter the same time Skip tweeted that Lebron was looking for a scapegoat:
Again, another famous and verified NBA expert hating the content of the game you claim to love so much.
Exhibit C: Social Media Trolls
I would be lying if I told you I watched Jordan play and can give you a real analysis and comparison of the two GOATs of basketball. The truth is I was too young to see Jordan in person and didn’t watch enough NBA until LeBron was an established superstar. But if I listened to guys like this:
Then why would I even want to watch basketball now? I’m here for the GOAT talk, but it dominates conversations and social media threads far too often. Fans debated whether Peyton Manning or Tom Brady was the greatest QB in the game, but it rarely devolved into the kind of toxicity that you see in the comments section of a Twitter thread about “Bronsexuals” and “MJ Truthers.” “Fans” are only posting terrible, misspelled memes. It’s not original. It’s not an argument. And it’s not fun anymore.
Sports fans are stupid. I know it because I’m biased and stupid too when it comes to my favorite players and teams. But when that Twitter checkmark is influencing a young or casual fan in a negative and toxic way, we’re doing a disservice to the basketball community. NBA social media is actively setting up fans to become haters and trolls instead of listeners and content consumers. I’ll talk as much shit as the next guy, but let’s not forget to appreciate good game when we see it.