In the days immediately following the NBA’s indefinite suspension of play, the league’s social media feeds reflected a new normal. Gone were clips of Lakers star LeBron James finishing powerful dunks and Bucks' star Giannis Antetokounmpo going coast-to-coast after hauling in opposing misses. Instead, and in its place, were videos featuring players from different backgrounds and of varying skill-levels, all talking about the coronavirus.
Of North America’s four major men’s sports leagues, the NBA has by far the biggest following online. On Instagram, it has nearly 47 million followers, around 30 million more than the NFL, 40 million more than MLB and 42 million more than the NHL. The same dichotomy is present on other platforms, where the NBA has twice as many followers as the NFL on Facebook, three times as many as the NFL on Tik Tok (10.1 million to 2.9 million) and a paltry five million follower advantage on Twitter (30.3 million to 25.2 million). Amid the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA is using its platforms to try and make a tangible difference. And as its social media feeds illustrate, the NBA, more than any other sports league, is using its digital footprint not only to entertain fans, but also to educate and inform them of the on-going health crisis.
On the night of March 11, the NBA suspended its season “until further notice” following the positive test of Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Less than 24 hours later, on a special edition of TNT’s Inside the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver was already reflecting on how Gobert could now make a difference in an effort to curtail the coronavirus’ impact globally. A lot had changed earlier that day. Both MLB and the NHL had suspended their operations. The NCAA tournament had been canceled, making this year the first time without it since 1938. Still, Silver took an optimistic approach.
“We actually think we can use this hiatus to use this platform we have on social media to help people deal with this disease,” he said that night.
The NBA has done just that.
As of Monday night, there were more than 365,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, causing at least 16,000 deaths. In the United States, there were more than 41,000 confirmed cases. The NBA has 10 confirmed coronavirus cases involving players, the most of any North American sports league. While some of those players have remained anonymous, others have used their positive test results to educate others.
"I don't feel any of the symptoms, but I can't stress enough practicing social distancing and really keeping yourself away from a large group of people,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said.
Per a league spokesperson, as of Monday morning, it had already shared 23 PSAs featuring NBA, former NBA and WNBA players across its social media platforms. Many of the players who recorded videos did so on their own volition, giving up their own time by volunteering to participate in an attempt to make a difference. By the end of this past weekend, the league’s first wave of PSAs had already totaled more than 45 million views. That number will presumably only grow with time.
More players and coaches are expected to continue recording videos in the coming days and weeks. And in general, the PSAs seem to both combine basic tips in combating COVID-19 with more personal sentiments.
Two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol thanked essential medical personnel, saying, "Coming from a medical family, I just want to make sure we all take the time to thank the doctors, nurses and first responders who work every day to help us fight this virus.”
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love discussed his PSA on the TODAY Show, focusing on mental wellness.
"Now more than ever, we have to practice compassion,” Love said. “We have to be kind. We have to be mindful of our words, our actions and really practice a sense of community.”
But in addition to strictly social efforts, almost immediately following the league’s suspension, the NBA built a micro-site which has been publishing updated information regarding COVID-19. As part of a new “NBA Together” campaign, the league also says its committed to contribute $50 million to support those impacted by the coronavirus, including more than $35 million already made by teams and players.
The WNBA’s Seattle Storm have been showcasing a “Storm Activity of the Day” and on Friday, Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. helped kick off a “Jr. NBA at Home” initiative, providing at-home skills and drills for people to try as a means of promoting physical movement.
Those videos have now started appearing on social media and by this past weekend, so too did basketball-related clips. Still, however, PSAs were prominent. The NBA’s social platforms show an adjustment to life without live basketball.
The inventiveness of some of the NBA’s players have also been on display since the stoppage. Prior to the league informing teams on Thursday that it was closing its practice facilities, players uploaded clips showing modified workouts.
Raptors forward Serge Ibaka shared a video of himself running up and down a hallway in his home.
“Killa you are taken 4 steps down and back. You gonna have to do a thousand just to get something out of that lol,” Isaiah Thomas responded.
76ers rookie Mattise Thybulle started a Tik Tok account amid the hiatus and one of his most popular videos shows the Sixers' wing fully in uniform (without shoes) performing dribbling drills throughout his apartment.
Hawks' All-Star Trae Young has combined advocacy and in-home workouts through a sock-shooting challenge.
Players have been showcasing a lighter side too. Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie sent out a tweet last week asking which NBA players were re-watching their highlights on Youtube during the hiatus.
“At least twice a day,” Warriors star Stephen Curry replied.
“From rookie year to this year,” Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell added.
There’s been plenty of NBA 2K as well. Among other games, last Wednesday, the Ty Jerome controlled Suns faced off against the Josh Okogie controlled Timberwolves in a matchup broadcasted on Twitch.
“I blame the refs,” Okogie said after the 30-point loss.
And multiple players have shown off their musical talents, including Spurs guard Patty Mills who did so to such a proficient degree that Red Hot Chili Peppers star Flea praised Mills’ performance.
Antetokounmpo also attempted to show off his musical acumen, though his long-time girlfriend, Mariah Danae, fired off a joke his expense.
The Bucks star has been doing more than just practicing guitar, however, as he was among the first NBA players to pledge $100,000 to the part-time staff of his local arena.
"It's bigger than basketball!" Antetokounmpo wrote. "And during this tough time I want to help the people that make my life, my family's lives and my teammates lives easier."