Cool or Drool: NBA Takes on Twitter

Dan Bisno, Columnist

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Social media reveals unfiltered opinions and the true personalities of our favorite players in a way that interviews and journalistic pieces cannot. Current Los Angeles Clippers point guard Jamaal Crawford once inspiringly took to Twitter to write, “Thinking too much is the gift and the curse.”

Filtered or unfiltered? Using the NBA as a case study, we can examine the significant impact of social media on a professional sports league.

In 2009, the NBA introduced its notorious social media fine, which coincided with the largest increase in tweets of any year. Twitter is free for the masses, but to NBA stars, it costs at least a $25,000 subscription per year if they expect to get fined.

The NBA imposes social media fines for derogatory slurs and players making fun of other players or referees. In fact, social media fines are a major source of income for the NBA. For example, Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith has paid $25,000 fines for tweeting nude pictures of women and rude remarks towards opponents. While $25,000 fines add up, perhaps nothing beats the $500,000 that the NBA fined Miami Heat owner Micky Arison with after his Twitter commentary on the NBA lockout.

Clearly, NBA players and coaches are on tight leashes. The NBA makes every attempt to diminish our access to players’ honest thoughts and feelings.

When Kobe Bryant takes to Twitter to write, “Players are ‘encouraged’ per new CBA to take less to win or risk being called selfish+ungrateful while nbatv deal goes UP by a BILLION #biz [sic],” the NBA gets worried that they need to protect its interests by censoring players’ voices. As a result, players are financially blackmailed through fines to conform to the NBA’s brand, in addition to the other equally expensive fines for uniform violations, media misconduct, etc. But even amid the sea of rules and regulations, some players have found ways to use their large fan bases to influence the league.

Most basketball fans will recall summer 2015, when Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan made headlines for his infamous indecisiveness about re-signing with the Clippers or signing a new contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Despite verbally agreeing to sign with the Mavericks, his Clippers teammates unloaded a cacophony of emojis on Twitter, even flying to Dallas to stop him. This prompted more sports stars and teams to tweet at Jordan, ultimately driving him to re-sign with the Clippers for more money. That season, the Clippers seeded second in the Western Conference playoffs, and DeAndre Jordan was dominant, averaging nearly 14 rebounds per game during the regular season. Those feats would never have been possible without the leverage of his teammates and Clippers fans on social media.

Clearly, social media can catch the attention of the masses at the click of a button. However, it doesn’t take a whole team and its fan base to make an impact. Recently, Lebron James argued that his Cleveland Cavaliers, the defending NBA champions, need to add a point guard to win another title. After losing backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavaliers found themselves deficient with rookie Kay Felder taking over when star point guard Kyrie Irving catches his breath on the sidelines.

After upsetting fans and commentators with a critique of his already first-place Eastern Conference team, James clarified to his 34.2 million Twitter followers, “I not mad or upset at management cause [sic] Griff and staff have done a great job, I just feel we still need to improve in order to repeat…”

Much to the NBA world’s surprise, 32-year-old Nate Robinson captioned on Instagram, “Do I gotta put my number on ig @kingjames ??? Cause I will until you call me #holdat.”

For those who haven’t heard of Nate Robinson, here is a basketball history lesson. Short players have never had it easy in the NBA. But in 1986, the 5-foot-7-inch Spud Webb shocked the world by winning the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. Two decades later, he trained the 5-foot-9-inch Robinson, who would eventually go on to win three Slam Dunk Contests, changing basketball for average-sized people forever. Robinson is only 32 years old, he’s not in the NBA and he might be in the best shape of his life. Could he be the saving grace for James and the sinking Cavaliers?

Robinson took his social media escapade even further, commenting on ESPN posts and expanding his brand for those that forgot about him since he last played in the league during the 2015 season. Within a week, Robinson was signed to the NBA Development League. Unfortunately though, his dream to play with James may not work out the way fans hoped. A slew of other teams would have to pass on Robinson in the Development League waiver order for him to fall in the hands of Cleveland’s Development League team, the Canton Charge.

While Cleveland may not see Robinson on its roster before the season is over, it is still astounding that he was able to advocate for himself on social media to eventually earn a spot on a Development League roster.

Though we see social media create feuds on and off the court — most recently, Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J. McCollum and Memphis Grizzlies small forward Chandler Parsons have developed a newfound distaste for one another — Jordan and Robinson are evidence of social media making a real legitimate impact on what teams players sign with. Despite the NBA’s tight leash, the fines and the drama, social media earns itself a “cool” for changing management dynamics of professional sports teams.