While basketball isn’t my favorite sport, the NBA is currently the most entertaining league. It’s mastered being a professional sports league in the social media age. The players are young and exciting to watch and their personalities are readily available via social media.
A perfect example of this is Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. Embiid is a great player, but he’s also a great trash talker and sub-tweeter.
In November, Embiid tweeted what has become the 76ers’ rallying cry as they rebuild from being the worst team in the league: “Trust the process.” He also tweeted the hashtag “He died for our sins,” referencing former general manager Sam Hinkie, who orchestrated the rebuild but was fired before it could be fully realized.
Embiid has also publicly feuded with everyone’s least favorite basketball dad, LaVar Ball. After Ball’s son Lonzo was drafted in the first round June 22 by the Los Angeles Lakers, Ball said his son would lead the Lakers to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Embiid and teammate Ben Simmons both tweeted about the Balls, but Embiid’s “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him,” was the epitome of NBA trash talk. Also, the Lakers are currently 8-15 and sit three spots away from a chance at the playoffs.
My point is this: In 2017, sports aren’t just about what’s on the court anymore. Actually, sports haven’t been just about the court for a while. But the NBA in 2017 has realized how to generate the most excitement out of that.
The NBA recognizes it’s always putting on a show with intriguing characters, drama, comedy and tragedy. The subplots are fun and the players are accessible, which is the real reason it’s such a good show.
The MLB hides its exciting players behind more than 100 years of baseball history, plus a single player can’t truly impact an entire game the way a basketball player can. Baseball wasn’t destined to be the league to fully embrace social media culture.
The NFL hides behind its almost dictatorial rule over what its players are allowed to do, say and think. NFL teams also have 11 players on the field at once and their faces are hidden. The NFL was on the right track with letting players actually celebrate touchdowns, but it’s still behind the NBA.
The NBA is also more fun because of one specific player. He isn’t one of the exciting young players — although it’s very fun when he plays against those players. The NBA is fun because of a player who is doing something in his 15th season that some don’t ever achieve. That player is the greatest of all time: LeBron James.
The world met James when he was a teenage phenom from Akron, Ohio and the star of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School from 1999-2003.
He was then drafted in 2003 — at 18 years old — by his hometown team in a city that hadn’t won a championship in four decades.
All he did after that was win Rookie of the Year and eventually lead the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007. The Cavs were swept by the San Antonio Spurs that year because the Spurs were the better team. It was obvious the Cavs were just the LeBron show and had no other contributing players.
The Cavs wouldn’t give James any help. Of course he was going to leave, why wouldn’t he? He could go play with his best friend, Dwyane Wade, in Miami and finally win a championship. Now, how he left was a bad decision (see what I did there). But in the almost 20 years James has been in the public spotlight, he has made one major mistake. That’s a pretty good ratio.
So that’s the LeBron James story we all know, but why does that make him really good at being himself?
James also has a great business team. He invested in Blaze Pizza long before it arrived on Loyola’s campus, he signed a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike worth more than $1 billion, he starred in the summer 2015 blockbuster movie “Trainwreck,” he runs a production company with multiple shows on cable networks and he has a documentary series produced with Chance the Rapper that first premiered Nov. 26 on Fox.
Before all of that though, the reason James is so good at being the most famous basketball player in the world is because he knows he’s exactly that.
He knows he can play the media like a fiddle. Which he does with his subtweets and Instagram memes, but also with his political statements and endorsements of presidential candidates.
James is fun to watch because he knows it’s all a show and we shouldn’t take that for granted.