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Major Keys: DJ Khaled, Whiteside growing NBA’s Snapchat presence

The NBA has always been ahead of the game in regards to social media. Now, they’re at the forefront of Snapchat thanks to Hassan Whiteside and DJ Khaled.

A major key to DJ Khaled’s recent success may have been cut by the NBA’s top shot-blocker.

Sometime last October, Hassan Whiteside was relaxing at the record producer’s Miami home when he reached for his smartphone to document the occasion. The Miami Heat center launched Snapchat, an app that had become a favorite of his in the month and a half since he downloaded it.

“He asked me what I thought about Snapchat,” Whiteside recalls. “I said, ‘I think you should get a Snapchat.’ And DJ Khaled just got a Snapchat and took it to another level.”

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Twenty million followers later, Khaled has become one of the world’s most popular users of the app, landing interviews left and right and even speaking to the company’s employees about his personal strategy. He’s created viral catchphrases, pushed his own merchandise and doled out countless “keys to success” to his fans.

All Whiteside can do is hope to earn some new fans by making scattered guest appearances in Khaled’s daily videos.

“I’ve got to get with Khaled,” says Whiteside, who averages about 60,000 viewers per snap. “Khaled is the one who gets me all the followers.”

Whiteside, while not personally responsible for the creation of any other large accounts, has been instrumental in the NBA’s increased presence on Snapchat. He’s at the head of a growing pack of NBA players that have joined the app to share their lives off the court with fans. Each day, he’ll showcase his excellence in NBA 2K, joke with rookie teammate Josh Richardson or warm the hearts of his followers with an inspirational 12-second address.

 “I think it gives the fans a better view of your personality,” Whiteside says. “It’s like a movie of your life that you control, and after 24 hours, you start over.”

The challenge to shoot, caption and narrate short videos that expire after one day has piqued the interest of some of the NBA’s more creative minds. In recent months, colorful players like Warriors forward Draymond Green and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook have launched accounts. Still, the movement is in its early stages. There’s an element of reluctance in the league to publish content on the platform, at least for public consumption.

10 best players to follow on Snapchat


1. Hassan Whiteside, Heat


2. Kevin Seraphin, Knicks


3. Russell Westbrook, Thunder


4. Draymond Green, Warriors


5. Chris Bosh, Heat


6. Dwyane Wade, Heat


7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks


8. Lance Stephenson, Grizzlies


9. Jordan Clarkson, Lakers


10. Harrison Barnes, Warriors


Some players, like Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis, will tell you that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are already enough to handle. Others, as teammate Kevin Seraphin suggests, aren’t fit for it.

“The problem with some NBA players is that some guys are boring,” says Seraphin, who is currently concocting his own social network. “You know, I’m different. I think it’s a blessing to be here—you never know, you might die tomorrow. So, I’m going to show you I can be serious, but have a lot of fun at the same time.”

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Whether or not they personally use the service, the NBA and its teams have set out to document the lives its players on Snapchat. It isn’t the only sports league in the U.S. that’s embraced the application; just last year, Major League Baseball and the National Football League announced partnerships with the company, but it was the first. In 2014, the NBA shot video and photos from the All-Star Game in New Orleans and hasn’t looked back since.

“We saw Snapchat as a great medium to reach younger fans, and we wanted to provide the experience of being at a game or ‘hanging out’ with an NBA player,” says Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, the NBA’s senior vice president of digital media. “Snapchat’s content tools were also somewhat unique at the time we joined the platform. The ‘My Story’ feature let us produce compelling short form content. It was a great way to give fans the experience of being at a game with VIP access. Also, when focusing on a younger audience, we try to produce more lighthearted or amusing content.”

That focus has led to several viral moments; Dikembe Mutombo once used the app to give a tour of the league’s Manhattan office, while DJ Khaled graced the NBA’s Snapchat on Christmas Day.

As Snapchat continues to expand, so does the NBA’s coverage. The league is able to highlight its big events and showcase them to a younger audience, while its social-media savvy players, nearly 90% of which own an account on one medium according to the league, can push their personality onto the public in a controlled setting.

“Our players are social media stars, first-movers in technology, and right there sharing remarkable moments,” Rosenthal Brenner says.

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Nothing says “first-mover in technology” like inspiring the largest Snapchat account in the world.