Cavaliers, WWW

Sub-Cultures, Social Media, and Coverage in today’s NBA: While We’re Waiting

LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers Cavs Playoffs Pacers
Scott Sargent/WFNY
“I’m not getting deep into the whole LeBron/Arthur fist Instagram nonsense. It’s dumb. Moving on.” — Jason Lloyd’s “Final Thoughts“, November 8, 2017

I’ve long said you don’t have to understand the various sub-cultures to cover the NBA in today’s landscape. You don’t have to listen to hip-hop. You don’t have to know who is married to whom. You don’t have to have a vast knowledge of the history or release calendar of sneakers or style. You don’t have to be active on Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat while having a grasp on that week’s most popular memes. But you would be out of your mind to not think that these knowledge points can provide tailwinds throughout what has become a sport with no true offseason when it comes to coverage.

Seated in the writer’s room in Quicken Loans Arena on November 8, I was roughly 10 feet away from The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd as he was penning his column following the Cavaliers’ win. He wrote about J.R. Smith’s much-needed resurgence and the way the Milwaukee Bucks’ frontcourt allowed Ty Lue to deploy Kevin Love in a way that resulted in a huge statistical output without making a single three-point field goal. My goal for that night? A tick-tock style piece that started from the moment LeBron James posted a clenched fist on Instagram, the long-running meme of frustration that utilizes PBS’s Arthur. James had missed shootaround that day, adding even more intrigue to the upload. I had become aware of his pregame warmup taking place much earlier than normal, something else that added intrigue. And his listening to a specific track the new Big KRIT album on the way to the arena made things even more curious.

Everything James does is a story. A throwaway line about Dennis Smith Jr. — which was actually a shot at Phil Jackson — became three days worth of coverage. New York’s Enes Kanter responded to a post-game inquiry while referencing the water bottle flip game. And following the Cavs’ win over the Knicks, every member of the Cavaliers who is active on social media posted a picture of Arthur with the same “Mood” caption James had used days earlier.

Some of the most shared items on NBA Twitter are the hallway shots that take place before games to capture what certain players are wearing. Russell Westbrook, LeBron, and James Harden seem to get the most traction. Once the game tips off, countless accounts on Twitter and Instagram are either sharing highlight reel dunks or discussing what players are wearing on their feet. Not only are Instagram posts gaining traction from a coverage standpoint, but who’s commenting or liking specific posts garners just as much of a reaction. Thanks to updates at the app level, no longer is the picture the sole talking point. When Jeff Green posts a picture and Dwyane Wade and Isaiah Thomas comment, it’s the social media trifecta. The Cavs rode on the New York subway, and it turned into a full afternoon of dialogue. Remember when LeBron unfollowed the Cavs on Twitter? HO-LY SHIT.

It’s easy to see why some fans are turned off by all of the off-court drama the NBA provides — I rhetorically asked as much heading into last season — but it’s for this reason why the league continues to garner huge ratings and social engagement while the NFL and MLB arguably struggle with both (depending on who you believe). To use Jason’s term, it’s undeniably dumb. But it’s that pettiness that makes today’s NBA what it is, where what gets written on cookies during a Halloween party can become fuel for an NBA Finals matchup that won’t take place for another six months. A league where he and I are, writing about the same 24-hour period, can do so in vastly different ways. Jason’s digging deep on Smith’s early-season struggles, Kevin Love getting an IV the night before, and Jason Kidd getting a $25,000 fine for commenting on how many times the Cavaliers got to the free throw line that night. I’m transcribing Big Krit lyrics, going Law and Order on what time of the day James followed Draymond Green on Instagram, and finding the perfect way to describe just how short the four-time MVP’s shorts were during his warm-ups.

I’d call it a weird crossroads of sorts, but the beauty of the NBA is that these two roads may actually run parallel, crossing each other every so often. Both can exist, adding options and levity in a world where the 24-hour news cycle tends to provide monotony. Jason’s “Final Thoughts” columns are one of the must-read pieces following any Cavaliers game, providing a ton of insight about what takes place after the cameras are turned off on a nightly basis. On the other side of the map is a writer who uses whatever song James puts on as the locker room doors close as some backdrop for what’s about to take place over the course of the next 48 game minutes.

While the regular season in the NBA has merely become a runway to the playoffs, it’s a runway that provides us all with a ton of talking points throughout the course of the year. Much like the reality television culture that runs alongside it, many of them may be dumb and ephemeral, but damn are they entertaining.

This Week in #ActualSportswriting:

This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:

This Week in Bleacher Report:

This Week in Picks:

Ouch. THAT did not go as planned. The Browns lost by half a point. The Jags, while winning, only did so by three points while laying four — this, of course, was after a defensive touchdown was bizarrely overruled and a late-game interception was taken back to the 1-yard line. And the Giants, well, they look like they may be in worse shape than the Browns. This marks two straight weeks of less-than-ideal returns. Some may call it reversion as the weeks prior to those were fantastic. But losing two games by a total of 1.5 points, I prefer to call it Brownsing. Let’s get ’em back. While I hate going with three road teams, these feel like the best value with the caveat of being mid-week lines. Geronimo!

New England (-7) at OAKLAND
Philadelphia (-3) at DALLAS
Tennessee (+7) at PITTSBURGH

YTD ATS: 17-13
Last Week: 0-3

  1. Terrific, detailed reporting here. []
  2. …some of his behavior seemed odd, but no one expected that this moody White Sox fan from Missouri would actually be a teenage girl.” []
  3. This is crazy. []
  4. “The normal industry fare — the signing of a deal, “10 things we learned from the Last Jedi trailer” — has given way to a frantic chase to expose the depredations of the Next Harvey (or the further depredations of the current one). Publications and sites have undergone a kind of gritty reboot, and what was once a micro-genre of reporting has become the main event.” []

  • mgbode

    the league continues to garner huge ratings and social engagement while the NFL and MLB arguably struggle with both

    Is this true?

    NFL is still the ratings behemoth despite a slight downtick (that more or less matches the downtick across cable TV). They still have 15 million people tuning into each game.

    MLB ticket sales have been up. Individual markets vary, but overall ratings have been on the rise in terms of percentage of market size- and the postseason was only eclipsed by 2016 in recent years (due to the intrigue of the Cubs, mostly). The decline in ratings has been much less than the downtick across cable.
    From Forbes:
    With the 2017 regular season complete, Nielsen Media data for the 29 U.S. clubs by way of FOX Sports showed 12 regional sports networks rank #1 for teams that air games in their market in prime time , beating the prime time average of all other TV networks in their respective designated markets. Last season, nine clubs ended the season with those rankings, marking an uptick for overall interest in baseball against other programming in 2017.

    When just accounting for cable, MLB ranks incredibly for the networks that air teams. Just four teams (A’s, White Sox, Angels, and Mets) do not rank number #1, but in the case of the Angels, and Mets, the only reason they ranked #2 as opposed to #1 was due to competing MLB teams in the same markets (Dodgers and Yankees).

    I don’t have specific metrics on social engagement. It is tough to compete on a whole w/ LeBron James, who is the most marketable star in the US. NBA also has an advantage in a game w/ so few players who show their faces the entire game.

    As a league though, MLB is pushing hard w/ StatCast and Cut-4 among other avenues. They have stopped being aggressive in going after individuals using clips/GIFs/streamables. The NBA goes a step further and gives tools to create those to users, which is great. Just think that statement went a little too far.

  • JM85

    I think we’re in a time where all 3 are doing well for sure.

  • mgbode

    No doubt, yet each has dipped 6-7% in regular season ratings (including NBA). Due to cord-cutting, mostly.

    Interesting times as leagues try to figure out how to maximize digital rights. MLB was at the forefront on that avenue (as Disney even just bought their streaming vehicle), but it is where each goes from here that will matter.

  • Could have sworn I saw something that has the NBA up year-over-year with the other two down. Sure, raw numbers are going to be bigger for NFL, but trends aren’t in their favor.

  • mgbode

    NBA Finals was up big in ratings this year, which is probably what you saw. Regular season was down right in line with the others.

    Overall trend on NFL is bleak despite numbers, yes. With just everything from the past 10 years all continuing to pile on. At some point, you’d think we’d reach a tipping point w/ football. We’ll see.

  • humboldt

    The house of cards keeps falling around Jimmy Haslam, perhaps adding credence to Craig’s “Sell The Browns” campaign

  • Eric G

    I read it as the other two leagues don’t have both (combined) to the degree that the NBA does.

  • Eric G

    I’m confused why this is still ongoing. Wasn’t there a settlement?

  • mgbode

    Settlement was in civil courts to the truck companies. Criminal courts still proceeding.

  • Eric G

    Roger. Thanks for the clarification.

  • tsm

    I don’t find any of that stuff interesting, I find it juvenile. Which leads to the question of why we follow pro sports. For the players, this is their job, just like we all have jobs, and there is a general correlation between performance and compensation. As for me, I love competition at the highest level, and appreciate great athletes doing things I could only dream of doing. There is also a provincial component as a team with Cleveland across its’ chest is a part of my “family” in a very loose sense. The shared experience we get as we watch the Cavs win it all or the Indians 22 game streak means that we have a common bond with those who we might be at odds with regarding politics, faith, economics or any other aspect of our lives. As i get older, I want more and more to focus on what brings us together as people, and spend less time fighting over our disagreements. Loving one’s neighbor, besides being a Commandment, is also great advice for living together.

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