Recently, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had an hour-long conversation that aired on TNT during which they reminisced about their respective careers and revealed new information about their time playing together on the Los Angeles Lakers. One of the funniest moments was when Shaq and Kobe told the story how some Sacramento Kings fans mooned them as they arrived to Arco Arena for a crucial Game 7 in the 2002 playoffs. After winning the game, Bryant, O’Neal and a number of other Lakers got revenge by mooning those same fans from their team bus as they left the arena. Kobe said it was his favorite moment with Shaq, and quickly added that he’s thankful camera phones and social media didn’t exist back then.
That was a simpler time and today’s NBA players don’t have that luxury. Everyone has a camera phone and social media has made it easier than ever to interact with all celebrities, including professional athletes. While a platform like Twitter has led to some amazing stories and positive interactions that never would’ve happened otherwise, there’s also a lot of negativity that players have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
HoopsHype caught up with a number of NBA players to discuss how they handle social-media backlash and the fact that their every move can be recorded in this day and age. While some vented, nearly every player acknowledged that this isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things and that this just comes with the territory. We also spoke to an Eastern Conference executive and a number of agents to see how they educate players so they can avoid controversy.
DEALING WITH SOCIAL-MEDIA NEGATIVITY
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: “I love haters, even though they usually aren’t very smart. It’s always a good way to add some extra motivation.”
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: “That stuff is really annoying because most of it is because of fantasy [basketball], not true fans or people who truly love the game. Like, I understand if I play bad and then a basketball purist is upset, but it’s mostly kids who are trying to use us to win money in fantasy games. You’re tempted to fire back and I do at times, depending on the severity [of the other person’s tweet], but you’re better off just leaving it alone because firing back gives them satisfaction and they can say, ‘He responded to me!’ to their friends.”
Shane Larkin, Boston Celtics: “I tend to just block it out. Earlier in my career, I played in places like New York and Brooklyn where they had really tough fans. Sometimes I would let it affect me to the point where I’d say something back, but now I just read it and let it go. I think at this point in my career, I’m just used to it. You’re always going to have people who support you and you’re always going to have Twitter trolls. And they aren’t just talking about you, they’re talking about the best players in the league, the worst players in the league and everyone in between. They talk about everybody; that’s just what they choose to do on social media. It doesn’t really affect me on a day-to-day basis. You just have to block it out. But if there’s a player who says they don’t see it, that’s a lie. If you’re on Twitter or you’re on Instagram, you’re going to see it. Everybody sees it and everybody deals with it differently. Some people take shots back, some people let it go, some people laugh at it, some people let it affect them, some people use it as motivation. I just ignore it, for the most part. I’ll still throw a light jab back here and there, but it’s all just fun and nothing too crazy.”
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers: “I mean, haters are gonna hate. No matter what. Just look at when we had our winning streak – even then, people are going to say stuff. That’s how it is. We don’t care. We just try to live our lives and not care about any of that stuff. We don’t care about any of it – whether people are talking about our team [positively] or hating online. You can’t control that and the haters are always going to be there. I’ll live my life and they’ll live theirs. They may want to live my life or affect my life, but I don’t care.”
Brandon Paul, San Antonio Spurs: “I think social media is great because you can interact with the fans, show a little bit of personality and just be yourself. It also sucks because no matter what you post, it’s going to be interpreted a million different ways. It’s unfortunate because it’s out of your control and that can get super annoying. When I was in college, I’d get idiotic tweets from disgruntled fans or things of that nature and sometimes I’d reply with something witty or funny, but it never really affected me. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating to read some of it, but it’s more laughable than anything. I don’t check my mentions as much as I did when I was, like, a sophomore in college, but I think every player is different; some take it personally, some couldn’t possibly care less. And nowadays, you literally have fake profiles and bots that will tweet you something negative and it won’t even make sense, but I guess that’s just the world we live in.”
Jamal Crawford, Minnesota Timberwolves: “My approach with social media depends; some days I ignore it, sometimes I’ll say something. If the same person goes too far time after time, I may say something. It just depends.”
Corey Brewer, Oklahoma City Thunder: “I don’t even think about it. People are always going to say stuff, but I don’t think about it – whether it’s positive or negative. You can’t get really get too high or get too low based on what people say. You have to just go out there and do your job to the best of your abilities. If somebody says something negative on social media, it isn’t the end of the world. It is what it is. They have a right to free speech and they can say what they want, I just don’t pay attention to any of it.”
Quinn Cook, Golden State Warriors: “I just ignore it. I’ve been dealing with it for a long time because I went to Duke, a school you either love or you hate, so I learned a long time ago not to get worked up over it. When I was in college, there were times when I’d say something back to a hater, but I quickly realized that they want you to respond. When you respond, they retweet it and start mentioning their friends to show them and you’re making their day. So now, I never really respond because I don’t want to give them that satisfaction. I’ve definitely learned not to let Twitter get me down, but also not to let the positive comments go to my head and affect me either. I do appreciate the support, but none of the stuff that’s said on there really matters at of the day. You can’t be worried about it.”
Jordan Crawford, six-year NBA veteran: “I don’t trip over it because I know that they’re all clowns. I know that if I were to see them in person, they’d probably run up to me, asking for an autograph or trying to high-five me. Honestly, I really enjoy it, especially the funny stuff. I’ll just laugh at it. I don’t ever respond to it. I see it, but it doesn’t ever really get to me. I do think a lot of young guys struggle with social-media comments. They don’t have thick skin. A lot of them know from the time that they’re in the 10th grade that they’re going to spend one year in college and then go to the league. So they’re really young when they get to the league and they aren’t really battle tested. One thing about college is that it’s usually the first time that the coaches will really get on you and [you’re dealing with criticism], sometimes for no reason. You’re developing and maturing in college. But a lot of these players spend six months in college and then they enter the league and then the social-media criticism is one of the toughest things they’ve had to face. When I was younger, Twitter wasn’t as big. Now, there are people criticizing these guys every single day.”
Trevor Booker, Indiana Pacers: “The haters on Twitter used to bother me earlier in my career, but now I just laugh at them. Most of them aren’t even man enough to have a picture of themselves on their profile. The love is always nice though. I try to respond to at least some of the fans.”
Garrett Temple, Sacramento Kings: “Honestly, I’ve found that the best way to deal with it is if you have a bad game, don’t even look at your mentions because all of it is going to be negative. If you score 20 points and the team wins one day and then the next day, you score two points and the team loses, the same person who was raving about you and saying you were great will be crushing you and saying you need to get traded. That’s literally how crazy some fans are. I’ve seen that. The best way to deal with it is to just avoid it. Because, let’s be honest, if you see it, you can’t block it out. We’re all human and it’s going to register. You’re going to be upset to some extent. You obviously won’t feel good about it. The best thing to do is just stay out of your mentions if you feel like you had a bad game. That way, you won’t even see the negativity so there’s no way it can get to you. But there are also times when I’ll randomly get ignorant, negative tweets. In those instances, I’ll usually just laugh and then respond with kindness. Recently, one person said something where they were basically hoping I’d tear my ACL. And I asked, ‘Why do you have this hate in your heart? What’s up?’ And he basically started venting about how he got hurt back when he used to play, so I told him, ‘That’s no reason for you to wish ill on anyone else.’ But I usually respond with kindness… Then, they’re all on your side after that and they aren’t hating anymore. It’s funny how quickly [their energy] changes.”
Romero Osby, Orlando Magic draftee: “In today’s society, with everyone being keyboard warriors, you have to be mentally tough and understand these people just sit around and their sole agenda is to be seen by the athlete they’re tweeting at. You have to let these things roll off of your back. I never cared much about going back and forth with scoffers on social media.”
Former NBA player who’s now an East executive: “As a player, it’s best to not read negative comments. I’d advise players to stay away from the negativity as much as possible. I had that approach when I played. I avoided all media. Reading the articles or seeing the segments on sports shows can only hurt. It can’t help you as a player. In my opinion, you don’t need to hear and believe the positive stuff and you shouldn’t be exposed to the negative stuff. As an executive, it’s a little different. I think you have to at least be aware of the narrative. I think Twitter is great to give players a voice. Fans can hear straight from the players, which is great sometimes. But unplugging is the way to go for most guys. Some players feed off of it, though.”
DOES IT AFFECT ON-COURT PERFORMANCE?
Jamal Crawford: “Sometimes I think the negative comments hurt a young player’s confidence or they allow themselves to get too caught up in it to the point where it affects their play. I think sometimes young players worry about ending up on the wrong end of a highlight or whatever. But if you’re in the game long enough, you will have an embarrassing moment; that’s just how it goes. You can’t worry about that.”
Brandon Paul: “I definitely think players are scared to contest dunks or take charges because they’re worried that they might go viral. But I also think sometimes it’s because they’re worried they might get hurt, so it’s hard to tell.”
David Nurse, former player who now works with players on and off the court: “Comments on social media can definitely affect a player’s confidence, especially younger players who pay a lot of attention to it. I’ve seen it firsthand. If people are constantly saying, ‘You can’t shoot! This guy can’t shoot! Why are you shooting?!’ then it definitely starts to affect certain players and they may start to believe it as well. They may not be willing to take certain shots or use their full skill set because they let the comments get in their head. Most guys will say that the negativity doesn’t affect them or that they don’t care, but it may actually impact them deep down. I always tell the players I work with that the people making those comments don’t know what they’re talking about, but it still may impact them. When a guy goes viral after getting dunked on or crossed over, I think it can hurt their confidence a bit too. Some guys are afraid of that happening because they know that it’ll be all over Instagram and Twitter and hundreds of thousands people will be mocking them. Of course that can affect their confidence.”
Caron Butler, 14-year NBA veteran: “A lot of the athletes who enter the NBA are young and still trying to become the best version of themselves. They’re still developing, yet they have to hear all of this criticism and all of these questions. If you aren’t extremely confident in who you are, what’s said on social media can definitely affect you. It takes confidence to take your shots and play your game and when people are questioning you and criticizing you, it does weigh on you. Back when we were coming up, Pat Riley used to tell us to stay away from the newspapers because it was common for them to run articles that were critical of you and dissecting your game, even if the writer never played the sport or fully understood your role. They’d form these opinions and make a lot of assumptions, and nothing good came from reading it. Back then, it was easier to avoid the noise. Now? Your phone is always with you and not only are people saying things in your mentions, some of these sites that are writing negative things may tag you. You may not want to see that information, but all of sudden it’s being blasted at you and everyone has access to you just by mentioning your username in a tweet. You have to be extremely confident and be able to avoid the noise.”
Jordan Crawford: “I think it affects the way guys play; they’re less likely to take risks on the court. Most guys won’t even take chances – offensively or defensively – because they don’t want to get bashed. So they’re already thinking about social media in the back of their mind and letting it affect their game.”
PLAYING IN THE SMART-PHONE ERA
Brandon Paul: “Camera phones can be super annoying. I can’t imagine how it is for the All-Stars that are really popular. Like, there’s plenty of places I can go and not be bothered. But for some of my teammates, any place they go – even internationally – there’s going to be someone trying to take a picture of them or talk to them or tweet that they’re in the same place as them. That can be obnoxious. I don’t think it’s annoying when someone wants to take a picture with me – it’s when they just start taking pictures or recording you from a distance and they think they’re being subtle. It’s never subtle! I’d much rather someone come and ask for a picture rather than see them a few yards away, like, awkwardly pointing their phone at me. The worst is when they forget the flash is on and then take a ‘subtle’ pic (laughs). That has happened more times than I can count. It’s much easier for me to go out with friends and have a good time and not worry about being on TMZ, but I feel bad for the stars who can’t go anywhere without being noticed. But it does get annoying when I catch someone trying to take a sneak pic or something, especially if I’m just out with friends trying to enjoy myself. I come off as super paranoid and my friends hate it. We’ll be out and I’m like, ‘Yo, move to your left because this idiot is recording me.’ Then they’re like, ‘No they’re not, shut up.’ Next thing I know, I see a pic of me sitting at a lounge on Twitter with the caption, ‘Just seen @BP3.’ It happens so much and it’s weird.”
David Nurse: “Now, there is a ton of pressure on guys when they’re out in public. I try to tell players that anything they do in public, they have to assume that it could be recorded and put out there. You almost have to assume that someone will take video and post it on social media. The idea is if you have that mindset and assumption from the start, hopefully you won’t do anything crazy. It can take so long for a player to build up a positive image, but it only takes one tweet or video to tear it all down.”
Former NBA player who’s now an East executive: “Camera phones changed everything in terms of being out in public. You have to know that there are no safe places. You always have to be guarded. Even if you aren’t doing something wrong, you have to make sure it doesn’t look like you’re doing something wrong too. It can affect how you’re perceived. Some guys still drink and the same percentage probably experiment with drugs of some sort. I think guys are just more careful these days. They’ve heard horror stories of guys ending up on TMZ and getting in trouble. And then there are some who learn the hard way.”
Caron Butler: “A lot of people are extremely aggressive as they try to get a picture of you or some kind of content that they can use. They approach you and try to get some kind of footage, and they’re violating your privacy to the extreme. As an athlete, that’s something that you have to be aware of because people are always going throw camera phones in your face and try to take pictures of you when you aren’t aware. You just have to understand that and be extremely mature and understand that’s the world we live in now. It was different before. You used to be able to step out of the house and have a drink at your leisure. Or you could go out to be among your friends and stuff like that. Now, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong, someone can take a picture and add whatever caption that they want. They can paint the picture however they want and make it seem like you’re getting into trouble or doing something illegal or whatever. And then someone else who doesn’t know any better might run with the story and create something out of nothing. Like, as we’re talking right now, I’m walking out of my hotel with my luggage and someone could take a picture right now and say whatever they want. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the society that we live in now. It’s crazy, man. Also, people read into every little thing that you post and create a story or controversy even if there’s nothing there. A few weeks ago, Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys posted a picture of him in the tunnel of the stadium and people jumped to conclusion that he was leaving the Cowboys or unhappy with the organization, so he had to respond and shoot down all of that talk. So not only do people sometimes take pictures of you when you aren’t aware of it and post an inaccurate caption, they over-analyze your own posts and jump to conclusions there too.”
Joe Smith, 16-year NBA veteran: “When it comes to stuff like that, I’m glad I’m retired now (laughs). Those guys have to deal with so much, from the criticism on Twitter to the camera phones constantly being in their face. We all like to have privacy, so it’s definitely tough for these guys. A lot of these players really can’t go out now without a ton of people wanting pictures and stuff. And it’s really hard to block out negative comments these days. From a business side, it is good for building your brand and things like that, but there’s a lot of negativity.”
Quinn Cook: “I’m glad to play in this era with social media because I think the good outweighs the bad. Yeah, you get some negative tweets and you always have to mind your Ps and Qs in public [due to camera phones], but there’s just so much good that comes out of it. You can make an impact with social media, inspire others, develop friendships with people you’d never otherwise meet and do a lot of good. I can’t even imagine playing at a high level without social media because when I was a freshman in high school, Facebook blew up and then one or two years later, everyone was on Twitter. I basically grew up with it and got used to it before I even reached college. I understand why some guys may prefer life without those things, but I personally love them. When I was in high school, I thought it was so cool that I could follow my favorite NBA players and sometimes even interact with them. The connections and positive things that come from social media make it worth it.”
Myles Turner: “I definitely think using social media is worth it, despite the negative posts. Companies want players who can reach people through their social-media platforms, so it helps from a business perspective… Having cameras in your face constantly is annoying, though.”
Jordan Crawford: “In public, players have to be more careful because there are phones everywhere. You have to be careful if you’re out with a girl. You can’t be out doing things like taking shots and getting drunk, even though players back in the day may have gotten away with it.”
David Nurse: “With a few exceptions, there’s really not a lot of good that can come from a tweet or video or post on Instagram. But there’s a lot of examples where a tweet or post has caused problems for a player. I mean, look at the D’Angelo Russell situation. I remember when that happened, I was coaching in Brooklyn and I was talking to some of the players about it. I asked, would you ever want someone like that in your locker room? And they were all like, ‘No.’ When stuff like that happens and you have a negative interaction with a teammate, it definitely affects not only your public image but how other NBA players view you as well. That becomes part of your reputation. It wears down over time, but still. And now, you can broadcast live on Twitter and Instagram, so you’re even more likely to make a mistake that everyone can see because it’s live.”
Caron Butler: “Society cares so much about likes and followers and comments, and everyone wants to be trending for something positive. We shouldn’t care so much about what people are thinking. I have a 23-year-old, 17-year-old and 13-year-old, so I had to go over that with my children. My conversations with my children were the same conversations we were having in NBA locker rooms toward the end of my career, telling young guys that the main thing that matters is being comfortable with yourself, finding your niche and not caring if someone likes this social-media version of you. You have to be comfortable with yourself. That’s all that matters. It all comes down to what you feel about yourself and having that confidence no matter what people are saying. I think a lot of that comes with growth and getting used to dealing with these things.”
EDUCATING PLAYERS SO THEY AVOID MISTAKES
Former NBA player who’s now an East executive: “We go over social-media behavior with players during the Rookie Transition Program, and the NBA and NBPA have meetings throughout the year where that’s discussed among other things. Most organizations also go over it internally with players, especially rookies and young players. Veterans who have a history of confronting people on social media, posting controversial stuff, or doing anything that’s a bad look for the franchise are sat down and talked to as well. When a guy is getting criticized, some want to respond. And I get it; the anonymity of Twitter gives people the confidence to say the most vicious things that would bother anybody. But the challenge is getting guys to understand that they aren’t like their followers and they can’t say crazy things in response.”
Caron Butler: “Now, every athlete is a walking brand and billboard, and people understand that now. From the second that you post something, it’s out there, it could go viral and you can’t take it back. I think the league and individual organizations have done an excellent job of having classes and meetings where they make it clear to guys, ‘Look, you have to be cautious about what you’re posting on social media, where you hang out and who you’re hanging out with.’ They educate guys to try to help them avoid those mistakes and prevent them from going viral. Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of people who made those mistakes and who didn’t use their best judgement, so they show players those examples and let them know what the consequences were – the money that they lost, the brands that backed away and how it impacted everyone, not just the player but also the organization and others around them. They do a good job of showing these things to players and educating them so they don’t repeat mistakes that others have made.”
Former NBA player who’s now an East executive: “When we are evaluating a player, we do look at their social-media presence to get an idea of their character, impulsiveness, maturity and ability to deal with criticism among other things.”
David Nurse: “Players better be aware that their social-media presence affects their stock – whether you’re a college prospect who’s just going into the NBA or a veteran who’s trying to stay in the league. Teams definitely pay attention to what guys are tweeting. There are a lot of people monitoring their activity and players need to think about that before they hit send each time. I know college coaches have secret Instagram and Twitter accounts to monitor recruits. Sometimes, players don’t realize how problematic their posts are until it’s pointed out to them. For example, there’s a guy named Don Yaeger who speaks to teams about improving their culture and he’s helped players with their marketing, including guys like Peyton Manning and Blake Griffin. Before the season, he came to UCLA to speak to the basketball team. Well, without anyone knowing, he had been following the players for two months prior to speaking with them. He was up there calling guys out and putting their specific tweets up for everyone to see, and it was beyond embarrassing for a lot of the guys. And this is stuff they had tweeted out for everybody to see! They just need to realize that any tweet can affect their career and how they’re perceived. I think that was a good reminder that every single thing you put out there is being seen by a lot of people and it’s not always smart to post some of this stuff. When you get away from tweeting positive stuff, there’s a lot that could come back to bite you.”
Caron Butler: “It’s good to see the vets educating the young guys too. I think it was excellent that LeBron James shared some of that wisdom with Lonzo Ball when he played against him the first time. He basically told him, ‘You’re a young stud in this game and you’re getting a lot of criticism already, but just avoid it and continue to move forward. Block out the noise.’”
Agents also play a key role in educating their clients. Many agents will show players examples of social-media mistakes that impacted that individual’s earnings. They’ll explain how something controversial can cause a player to lose their endorsement deals and make it harder to get new companies on board in the future. They’ll also show how individuals have hurt their free-agency or draft stock because of reckless social-media posting.
These days, before a player is drafted, some agents will go through all of their client’s old social-media posts to delete anything that could cause controversy or become an issue once they’re in the public eye. Many of today’s young NBA players grew up on social media, so they’ve been tweeting since they were kids. Each year, people will dig through old tweets (some from nearly a decade ago) to find something problematic. Agents know this, so some try to scrub timelines to avoid negative press.
When a player is repeatedly damaging his brand on social media – whether it’s struggling to hold back when they’re baited by a troll or posting when they’re emotional or intoxicated – their agent or publicist will sometimes try to get them off of social media and have a PR person run their account instead. That way, they still have a social-media presence and can use it to promote their foundation events or basketball camps, send out sponsored content and post positive messages. However, this sometimes upsets players who understandably don’t want to be censored. Sometimes, the content that the PR person posts also irritates the player. One agent shared a story of a player was mad because after several outbursts, a PR person was assigned to run his account. However, this PR person was a middle-aged, white woman who would act like the player and tweet positive things after games. The player argued that she sounded nothing like him and it was making him look bad (and some of his teammates were making fun of him). However, the agency was just trying to do damage control and rehabilitate his online image.
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