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NBA Media Roundtable: What Kind of Influence Does NBA Twitter Have?

NBA reporters around the country explain what kind—if any—influence NBA Twitter has on their journalistic work.

Last year, while writing for that basketball bible known as The New Republic, Maxwell Neely-Cohen offered a pitch-perfect description of Twitter’s outsized influence on all things NBA.

“Twitter has become the epicenter of basketball fandom, a beating heart and a central nervous system, a place where serious statistical analysis flows alongside highlights, jokes, exclamations, and inane trash talk from every conceivable corner of the world,” Neely-Cohen wrote. “The NBA Twitter ecosystem includes professional gamblers, math geniuses, journalists, front office insiders, >superfans , team PR reps, massive athletic apparel brands, cable news anchors, rappers, heads of state, and the very players being discussed. For football and baseball the killer app second screen experience is fantasy sports; for basketball it is Twitter.” >

The shorthand for this is “NBA Twitter” and no media person covering the NBA can escape its influence, both good and bad. As part of an NBA media roundtable this week with seven influential voices, I asked how much NBA Twitter influences what they do and why? >

The panel:

Howard Beck, NBA writer, Bleacher Report

Candace Buckner, Wizards reporter, Washington Post

Tania Ganguli, Lakers reporter, L.A. Times

Adam Himmelsbach, Celtics reporter, Boston Globe

Frank Isola, NBA columnist, New York Daily News, SiriusXM NBA Radio host, Around The Horn panelist.

Michael Lee, senior NBA writer, Yahoo! Sports

Marcus Thompson, columnist, The Athletic Bay Area

Beck: Twitter is indispensable. It’s my primary news feed (both NBA and real world), a social outlet, a place to engage with readers and to promote my work. There’s a lot of nonsense on Twitter, but there’s also a lot of really smart NBA conversations going on. Occasionally, that might spark a story idea, or help shape a story I’m already working on. It also provides a snapshot of how fans/media view a particular trend or player or league issue. That may help inform my own opinions, or at least give me something to think about.

Buckner: Being new to Washington I’ve learned through Wizards Twitter that there are many people who are down on the team’s front office, particularly president Ernie Grunfeld. It makes sense, there’s a lot to be mad about. So while this helps inform me with past context, I’m vigilant in not having it influence the way I write. I got here in 2016, not during the height of the #SoWizards era. I don’t want to get sucked into an echo chamber. I’d rather write what I see in the here and now. Again, it’s good to have context and apply it when it makes sense, but paying too much attention to NBA Twitter can be like spin. If I don’t want to be spun by the front office, then I have to keep the same standard in mind when I’m interacting with fans.

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Ganguli: I love NBA Twitter. It’s the result of the league and the people around it not taking themselves too seriously, which is great. I don’t think it influences what I do all that much. It is interesting to see what gets noticed and what doesn’t.

Himmelsbach: This is a great question. I always say that Twitter is at once so great and so horrible. It’s a fantastic place to share your work, but I’m well aware that most followers don’t even click on the actual stories. If anything, they just use the time to complain that they’ve used their free articles for the month and hate the Boston Globe’s paywall.

Twitter is certainly home to some of the most rabid and intelligent fans, and the real-time interactions can be really cool. But I also have to remind myself sometimes that I’m not writing for Twitter, and that in the end it’s a small part of the overall audience. So just because something might get a lot of favorites doesn’t mean it would make a great story. It also seems that some sports journalists tweet overly positive things about the teams they cover because they know it’ll get more retweets, because fans like positive. That can be awkward.

Isola: It's huge. From linking to your stories to expressing opinions in 140 characters, every NBA writer and broadcaster is building (or ruining) their brand every day. I don't have Facebook, SnapChat or Instagram but I do Twitter. I enjoy it. Mostly, I use it to bust balls which is very easy to do because folks take sports very seriously and Knicks fans take themselves seriously. Lethal combination. But sometimes it bothers me.

For example, when Gordon Hayward suffered that gruesome leg injury a lot of players were quick to tweet "Prayers for Gordon Hayward." I get it, he's part of the NBA brotherhood and mostly players were reacting to the visual of him suffering that terrible injury. Of course, I don't remember many players tweeting out prayers to Jeremy Lin the next night when he suffered a far worse injury. But when an NBA broadcaster tweeted how Hayward's injury would impact the Celtics on the court he received a lot of blowback from followers who thought he was being insensitive. Too soon? Was he supposed to tweet "Prayers for Hayward" and then wait 24 hours to give his basketball opinion. Politically correct Twitter is the worst kind of Twitter.

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Lee: If something goes viral—either a post-game rant or a poster dunk—that’s probably a story worth pursuing. There are always several layers that can be examined and hashed out. I remember last year the Warriors had a party at Steph Curry’s house where there were balloons that read, "Super Villains.” In the photo, all the players were looking at the camera but Klay Thompson was checking his phone. Fans on Twitter reacted and I asked Klay about it as part of a story.

NBA Twitter has some of the best debates, too, and it’s good to provide information and support for barbershop-type discussions. I'd probably also be incredibly more productive if I stayed off NBA Twitter. It has to be the best of the major professional sports.

Thompson: Too much, I’d say. It has become an extension of whatever outlet we work for, a mandatory component in addition to the paper or website, etc. It also is a straw man, a not-so-scientific survey of moods and tones and narratives. It drives motivations—of articles, player’s comments, team ordinances—because it has a way of shaping perception.