Inside NBA group chats: 'Nothing is really off limits'

Inside NBA group chats: 'Nothing is really off limits'

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Inside NBA group chats: 'Nothing is really off limits'

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Last month, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Quinn Cook told HoopsHype that it feels like this new-look Lakers team has “been together for a while,” and that the players have been communicating with each other a lot throughout the offseason.

“We have our team-group chat going and everyone has been really active in it,” Cook said.

These days, the Lakers are hardly the exception. Nearly every team in the NBA has group chats for their players and coaches. Not only is it a way for players to connect, it’s also how most teams send out their schedule and announcements everyday.

“We already have our group chat set up; it started a few days after free agency,” said New York Knicks point guard Elfrid Payton. “It’s helping as we get to know each other. We’re always talking about hanging out and trying to coordinate workouts… Every team that I’ve been on has had a group chat.”

In an effort to learn more about how people around the NBA communicate with one another, HoopsHype talked to a number of players and coaches about when teams started using group chats, what players and coaches discuss in them, how they’ve changed the way teams communicate and much more.

WHEN DID TEAMS START USING GROUP CHATS?

Group texts have become more and more popular in recent years, especially among young adults. In December 2017, a Statista survey showed that 44 percent of adults aged 18-to-34 communicate in a group chat at least once per day, and 30 percent of those individuals send messages in a group chat multiple times per day.

Those percentages would likely be even higher if the survey was conducted today since the number of sent text messages has increased every year for over a decade. Most NBA players are between the ages of 18-and-34 years old, so they’re right in the demographic that uses group chats the most.

Statistic: Frequency of using group chat function of text messaging (SMS) or online messaging applications according to adults in the United States as of December 2017, by age group | Statista

When asked when teams started using group chats, the players and coaches agreed that it was around 2014 or 2015.

“Even over the past five years, communication among players has shifted so much to text messaging, video calls and social media,” one NBA coach said. “It’s really, really phone-based. The smart coaches understand it and they’re the ones who are embracing it. Some coaches try to push back against it, but their players often end up resenting them.”

College teams started implementing group texts around the same time. RJay Barsh is an assistant coach at Boise State University who also trains NBA players in the offseason. He was previously the head coach at Southeastern University, which is where he was coaching when he became a fan of group chats.

“For me, it started in 2015,” Barsh said. “That’s when I was like, ‘Yo, this is the way to go.’ I noticed that players were already communicating through group chats, so it just made a lot of sense for us to use it too. I also liked that even if you switched phones, you could just download the app again and you’re back in your group chat.”

“When the iPhone came out and took over, the way we communicated as a society changed,” said a Western Conference coach. “Phone calls became less frequent and everyone shifted to text messaging. It got the point where digital communication sort of replaced interpersonal communication. Then, there was the emergence of emojis and GIFs. As a result, the way that teams communicate changed drastically too.”

Many NBA teams use iMessage for their group chats, according to the players we surveyed, although there are some organizations that use other messaging apps. When players make their own group chats on the side, it’s typically over iMessage or they’ll create a group direct message on Twitter or Instagram.

“There are many messaging options; it all comes down to preference,” said Cody Toppert, an assistant coach with the Memphis Tigers who was on the Phoenix Suns’ coaching staff last year. “GroupMe is used by a lot of teams, and I like it because you can see who has or hasn’t read your message. Some teams use WhatsApp (especially overseas teams). There’s also Teamworks, which is a team-focused messaging app. Last year, when I was with the Suns, we tried several of the apps, but our players were having trouble getting our messages for whatever reason, so we went old-school and would just send group texts over iMessage. That ended up being the most successful group-chat option for us. Jamal Crawford still has a BlackBerry, so we couldn’t include him on the group texts and had to send everything to him in a separate text, which I thought was hilarious (laughs).”

“My teams have always used GroupMe,” Barsh said. “I think a lot of teams use GroupMe simply because it’s free right now.”

Most people haven’t heard of Teamworks since it caters directly to sports teams, but it’s becoming more popular among its target audience. It’s supposed to simplify communication, scheduling, file sharing and travel planning for teams. There are over 2,000 teams currently using Teamworks, including professional squads (like the Memphis Grizzlies, Green Bay Packers and Washington Nationals) and college programs (like Clemson, Virginia and Wichita State). The app allows coaches to send out a group text but receive one-on-one replies, schedule text/voice/email messages, create travel itineraries and more.

“Group chats are the new wave,” said 10-year NBA veteran Marreese Speights. “Every team has a group chat now, whether the team is in the NBA, in college, in high school or in AAU.”

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

WHAT’s DISCUSSED IN THE GROUP CHAT?

Players use their group chat to discuss a wide range of topics and while there are productive conversations that take place, the majority of messages are players having fun and trying to make each other laugh.

“A lot of us clown each other and crack jokes in there,” said an Eastern Conference player with a laugh. “The group chat is mostly memes and jokes. Nothing is really off limits.”

“There are a lot of GIFs too,” added a Western Conference player. “Some guys like to react to things with GIFs of their head coach or teammates, especially if he’s making a funny face or freaking out in the GIF (laughs).”

When discussing what kind of jokes tend to pop up in NBA group chats, two players pointed to the way that former Lakers teammates Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart would roast each other on social media as an example of what you might see in their group texts.

“It’s similar to the way those guys clowned each other, but it’s even more personal since it’s just us in there,” said an Eastern Conference player said. “It’s sort of a judgement-free zone. Sometimes, jokes can be taken the wrong way if you don’t personally know the people involved or understand the context. Everyone in the group chat obviously knows me and my sense of humor, but our jokes might get misinterpreted [by outsiders]. Even when Ball and Kuzma were roasting each other, some people thought it went too far and it became a story. You don’t have to worry about how your jokes will be perceived in the group chat because it’s just you and your guys.”

“Fans were shocked when they saw what those guys were saying, but players were laughing because that’s how we joke with each other all the time,” added another Eastern Conference player.

With that said, there are times when the joking stops and the guys get serious.

“It’s not just jokes,” said a Western Conference player. “We’ll discuss things that we didn’t do well in our most-recent game and what we need to focus on going forward. We want to make sure everyone is locked in and understands what needs to be fixed. I think having that kind of conversation in the group chat is perfect because you reach everybody, and anyone can chime in. It’s kind of like having a team meeting except we don’t need to be in the same place.”

“Sometimes, a conversation in the group chat is how a players-only meeting comes together,” added an Eastern Conference player. “If the team is struggling, someone may text the group like, ‘Yo, tonight was terrible and we need to get our sh*t together. Let’s all meet up tomorrow and have a conversation an hour and a half before practice starts.’ The conversation starts in the group chat and then picks back up in our meeting. There will be something serious like that in the group chat every once in a while, for sure.”

Players often use the group chat to make plans with each other. Sometimes, if a player is feeling generous, they’ll pick up food or anything else their teammates may want.

“If I’m running to the store when we’re on the road, I’ll text everyone asking, ‘Hey guys, I’m at Walgreens; does anyone need anything?’ Or I might ask, ‘Anyone want to grab dinner?’ There are a lot of messages like that,” said an Eastern Conference player. “If I’m watching a game on TV, I’ll ask if anyone else is tuned in and, if they are, we’ll talk about it. Some guys send motivational stuff, but that usually happens more in the offseason. There’s all kind of stuff going on in the group chats.”

In addition to the players-only chat, there’s usually a main group chat that includes an assistant coach or a trainer, so they can send schedules, announcements and travel information to the players.

“Now, if something needs to be sent to the players, we send it to the group chat,” a Western Conference assistant coach said. “These days, that’s how a lot of important information is delivered to players and coaches. Because it’s all digital, we can easily update the schedule without having to send out a bunch of new copies each time too. Digital communication has absolutely had a big impact on the league.”

“There’s usually someone from the training staff in the team-wide group chat and they’ll send over the schedule for the next day and tell the players anything that they need to be aware of,” said an Eastern Conference player. “They’ll remind everyone, ‘Hey, practice is tomorrow at 2 pm as opposed to 4 pm,’ or, ‘Your treatment is tomorrow at 1 pm and here’s where you need to go,’ or, ‘We’re taking team photos tomorrow before practice so everyone needs to arrive 30 minutes early.’ Group chats are the best way to get info out to the entire team and there’s no excuse if you are late or miss something.”

Some players also have group chats with NBA players who aren’t on their team. Sometimes, this is just to keep up with long-time friends who play for other teams around the league. Other times, they’re interested in playing together at some point and they’re discussing that possibility.

“Players will sometimes talk to other guys around the NBA and discuss the possibility of teaming up,” said one Eastern Conference player. “That definitely happens.”

Barsh, who trains NBA players in the offseason in addition to coaching at the collegiate level, thinks the group chats with opposing NBA players are more about staying close with friends than plotting to team up.

“There are NBA players who have several different group chats that they’re in, but a lot of these players just want to talk to friends who understand what they’re dealing with, who are going through the same things as them,” Barsh said. “And many of these players get to know each other at a young age through EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) and grassroots basketball, so they became good friends long before they enter the NBA. They compete with each other, but they’re still boys afterward. These group chats allow them to stay in touch.”

Just like the players have their own private group chat, coaches often have their own group text that the players can’t access too.

“In our group chat, we’ll talk about game-plans, workouts, what we’re seeing from a specific player and things like that,” a Western Conference coach said. “It’s like having a meeting 24 hours a day. I had to turn notifications off for certain times because my phone would just be going off all night. But it’s kind of cool because if an idea pops into your head, you can immediately send it in the thread so you don’t forget it and everybody can weigh in on it. I think it’s great for coaches because it ensures everyone is on the same page.”

“We’re with each other all of the time, so it’s not too exciting,” said another Western Conference coach.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

THE PROS AND CONS OF USING GROUP CHATS

With how prevalent group chats have become around the NBA, the majority of players and coaches clearly feel that the pros of using group chats outweigh the cons. That was certainly the case among the players and coaches we surveyed.

“It definitely helps to have everyone in one group chat because then everyone knows what’s going on and it brings the team together in some ways,” one Eastern Conference player said. “In my experience, it’s been a very beneficial thing.”

One positive of using group chats that may get overlooked is that they give every player a chance to provide input and be heard, even shy introverts who never say anything when these kind of conversations happen in-person.

“It allows people who aren’t as outspoken to share their thoughts with the rest of the team,” said a Western Conference player. “Some players don’t like talking in front of everyone, so they don’t speak up during team meetings. But in the group chat, they can choose their words carefully, type it up and express how they feel. I’ve seen players who never speak up in-person decide to offer their thoughts in the group chat because they’re more comfortable.”

“I’ve seen introverted players share a powerful quote or a video about overcoming adversity when the team is struggling,” Barsh added. “I think for those quieter players, the group chat allows them to lead in their own way.”

When a team adds players, the group chat is where the new teammates often interact for the first time and it serves as an ice breaker of sorts.

“If you’re texting with someone before you meet them, it’s less awkward when you’re face-to-face for the first time,” said an Eastern Conference player. “You already know what they’re like and you get a feel for their personality.

“Also, using group chats is just way more convenient. Rather than sending the same message to 13 or 14 different people, it’s easier to just send it in the group chat.”

There were a few concerns that some players and coaches brought up.

“I think they create cliques sometimes,” said one coach. “I have a few friends who were traded during the season and they never really clicked or bonded with their new teammates because they were viewed as an outsider whereas the rest of the team had already established relationships. It can be hard for those players to become one of the guys when everyone already knows each other and they have inside jokes and things like that. In addition to the main group chat that includes the whole team, guys will have separate group chats with just a few teammates, so you can see the different cliques that have formed. This isn’t always the case, but in those instances, group chats may actually hurt the team’s chemistry.”

“There’s a time and a place to be on your phone, and there’s a time and a place to put your phone down,” added an Eastern Conference player. “Some players, especially young guys, don’t understand that; I think it’s a generational thing. A lot of these guys grew up with this stuff and they don’t know life without texting and social media and apps. They’re on their phone so much and things like social media mean so much to them. It’s definitely a generational thing.”

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

CAN A GROUP CHAT HELP TEAM CHEMISTRY?

If a group chat leads to the formation of cliques, it’s easy to see how that could cause issues within a team and hurt their chemistry. However, most of the players and coaches said they have seen their team’s chemistry improve thanks to their group chat.

“You can usually tell if a team has good chemistry just by reading their group chat,” said an Eastern Conference player. “You can tell how close those guys are. If guys are constantly cracking jokes, sharing memes, having detailed conversations about life and stuff like that – and if the group chat is still very active when guys are at home with their family and friends – those guys are probably close.”

“There are a lot of guys who don’t really talk much when you first meet them, but when you start texting them and joking with them a bit, they break out of their shell,” Speights added. “It helps certain guys open up. A lot of the younger players are used to being on their phone 24/7. They’re always just staring into their phone or using it to take pictures and stuff. It’s what they’re used to since they grew up with it. You can’t really blame them, it’s more on their parents.”

Some players take it upon themselves to lead in the group chat. For example, one player who suited up for the Los Angeles Clippers described Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams as “the heads of the group chat,” adding that they would often send hilarious messages. Solomon Hill, DeAndre Jordan, Nikola Vucevic and DJ Augustin are also known to send very funny messages, according to their peers.

“Going out to dinner, hanging out, working out together and things like that are still the best ways for a team to develop chemistry; that hasn’t changed,” said former NBA player and NBPA vice president Mo Evans. “What has changed is that it’s much easier to set up those get-togethers now. You can get a response from multiple teammates instantly and then everybody is together a few minutes later, and then that get-together can help the team’s chemistry.”

One player provided an extreme example of a group-chat conversation leading to a fun getaway for the team.

“One time, we were all talking in the group chat and we decided to go on a trip to Los Angeles as a team,” said an Eastern Conference player. “We all decided to go, figured out where we should stay and when we should fly out and all the details. That was a spontaneous, team-bonding experience that probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been talking in the group chat. I think it’s amazing for team chemistry. Not only does it allow everybody to be involved in the conversation, it helps us do things together as a team.”

“Any positive communication between people is good and can help them build a relationship,” one coach said. “And I think one of the good things about the group chat is that the style of communication is fun and relaxed, so walls come down and people create a strong bond with one another.”

Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT HAPPENS TO PLAYERS WHO LEAVE?

When a player changes teams, are they removed from the group chat? If so, who is in charge of that? Does someone just start a new group chat that only includes the current players?

“It’s funny you ask that because we just had a situation like this last season in New Orleans,” Payton said. “Tim Frazier was in our [Pelicans’] group chat, but then he was waived and joined the Milwaukee Bucks. We weren’t playing Milwaukee again for the rest of the season, so we just left him in the group chat. Usually, the player will remove themselves if they change teams. When I was in Orlando, we had a guy who removed himself after he got traded. I’ve never seen someone get kicked out or removed by another player, though.”

“I was the guy who had to remove players from the group chat last season in Phoenix, and I had to do it a lot because we had a lot of roster turnover,” Toppert said. “Whenever we traded or cut a player, all of a sudden, everyone would get a message saying, ‘So-and-so has been removed from the conversation.’ There were a lot of those messages. I would feel bad, but someone had to do it. If the guy wants to stay in the players-only group chat, that’s not a big deal. But they can’t stay in the main chat with the coaches and players.”

Some players prefer when the team makes a new group chat rather than removing them from the current one because they want to stay in touch with their former teammates in the old group chat.

Kyle O’Quinn grew very close with his fellow young teammates during his three-year stint with the Orlando Magic. Once the front office broke up that team, O’Quinn said that the players stayed close even as they all moved to different teams because they maintained communication through their group chat.

“At the trade deadline a few years back, I was one of several players who got traded by our team. After the guys found out, everyone was in the group chat wishing us good luck and telling us they’d miss us and saying that this is always going to be a brotherhood,” a Western Conference player said. “I realized that my teammates really care about me and that this is bigger than basketball. The group chat gave everyone an opportunity to express how they feel about the trade and say goodbye. Sometimes, players express their frustration if they don’t like the deal. After the trade, the team made a new group chat without us players who got traded, but we would all still talk occasionally in the old group chat to stay connected and catch up.”

Speaking of the trade deadline, that’s easily one of the most stressful days of the year for NBA players since they may have to uproot their life with zero notice. We asked the players what the group chat is typically like as the trade deadline approaches.

“Around the deadline, guys are usually joking around like, ‘They’re about to ship my a** out of here!’ and, ‘This might be it, ya’ll; it’s been fun!’ Usually, it’s all jokes,” an Eastern Conference player said. “There isn’t much serious talk about what may happen because a lot of guys are worried that they may get dealt. Even if you’ve been told that you won’t be traded, you never really know. There are a lot of stories of guys being told they’re safe and then getting traded anyway, so a lot of guys are anxious.”

“The guys who have been around a long time and know what to expect at the trade deadline will joke around about it, which breaks the ice,” one coach added. “They’ll talk about packing their bags and refreshing Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweets for updates. I think a lot of guys use their sense of humor to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety they’re feeling since they have no control over the decision.”

It won’t be long until every player in the NBA grew up with smartphones and social media, and there’s no doubt that the technology will continue to improve in the future. Unless the way we communicate undergoes another drastic shift in the next decade, it seems like a pretty safe bet that group chats (in some form) are here to stay.

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