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.” []