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It’s Hard To Savor The Modern NBA
Posted By Travis Heath On May 28, 2013 @ 4:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
Maybe I should start off this column by telling you to get off my lawn. I actually do have a lawn to tell you to get off of now, by the way, which wasn’t true last year at this time. It is yet another sign of me growing older, I suppose. And perhaps what I am beginning to see is somewhat of a generational divide.
Twitter can be absolutely exhausting. When it first became popular among sports media and fans, it was a fun little tool that allowed for quick banter. I remember using it to disseminate news and engage in basketball related chatter back in the summer of 2008. At that time, I was a little bit late to the party. All of the cool kids were already on it.
In truth, I’ve enjoyed my stay on Twitter. Not enough to even consider signing up for Facebook, but it has been an overall enjoyable experience.
Lately, though, it seems like I just can’t keep up. Trying to watch a basketball game and follow my Twitter feed has become almost intolerable.
On numerous occasions during these playoffs I have seen people tweet so much during the game that they would predict Team A would win, before trying to convince folks they were the first to make the observation that Team B would come back to win.
The interesting thing? If one tweets enough, people rarely seem to notice the flip-flop.
We live in a time right now where journalists can proclaim that a player is going to sign with a team, be completely wrong and the majority of fans forget it by the end of the week. In fact, said journalist can often gain thousands of followers just for playing along. If some “prominent” members of the media can be wrong, your average “fan blogger” or “wannabe basketball savant” certainly doesn’t have much to worry about.
In general, I’m a proponent of full disclosure of information and everyone having a voice. The internet has provided exactly that. It has technically always been true that anyone could start a website and begin writing about sports or whatever else one wanted to write about. However, a decade ago, the technology was much less accessible. Now, there are basically plug-and-play website designers that allow anyone to create a decent looking website in short order. Moreover, NBA teams are more likely than ever to credential websites that root for the team simply because it is free PR, and I can’t say I fault them for it. It makes good business sense.
With the throng of media growing seemingly daily in the digital space, it has created a kind of saturation. In order to stand out that leaves a media member (and I use that term loosely) with basically two options: 1) Break news that people are interested in; 2) Say something outrageous or contrarian with the intent of getting attention.
The first option requires solid relationships with people around the league usually fostered over many years, at least if one hopes to do it well. Some people are so desperate to break news that they are manipulated by player agents or front office personnel. And let’s face it, the vast majority of NBA news is broken by a very small circle of people (see: Wojnarowski, Adrian).
The second option requires only a Twitter account. Many folks also have a website they link to on Twitter, but even that is not mandatory in the year 2013.
Okay, so people have always had the ability to make inflammatory or otherwise over the top statements. The world we live in now just allows it to happen faster and for such information to be consumed by more people.
So what’s my specific beef with how Twitter is used in the world of sport, you ask?
The rush to say something provocative is creating a culture where patience is becoming a dirty word. Moreover, it’s creating a dangerous relationship with accountability: wait long enough and people will likely move on and forget to hold you accountable.
I can already hear the trite dismissals. “Who cares what people say on Twitter?!”
To this question I respond by saying: be careful of the stories you tell about yourself and others tell about you because eventually they will live you.
We create meaning through our use of language. Our use of language creates stories that come to define who we believe we are in relationship to others and the world around us. Said differently, the stories we tell about ourselves and others tell about us socially construct our identities.
Just two years ago at this time, we were exposed to story after story about how LeBron James didn’t have a “clutch gene” (whatever the hell that is). Furthermore, we heard that he had no post game and therefore could never be one of the all-time greats. He was just 26 years of age at the time and yet the Twitterverse was content to make totalizing generalizations about everything he is and will become.
Suddenly, at age 28, everything is now different for LeBron? That is how some are characterizing it. I would say it differently. I would say he was simply given time to continue to grow towards his full potential as a basketball player.
In our rush to be seen as the expert, the first person who can predict whether a player will be a star or a bust, the art of enjoying watching a player progress is becoming increasingly lost.
This same standard is applied to coaches, GM’s and everyone else in the NBA. Rarely are people given an opportunity to grow. The process is lost in the immediate outcome. If all we care about is the outcome, why even watch the games? We watch the games because the process of sport is what most of us are fundamentally attracted to. That process is one that will always maintain a certain level of artistry and will never be completely and accurately quantified.
There are moments where my Twitter feed enhances my experience of viewing an NBA game. However, those moments are becoming increasingly rare. Instead, it seems that most folks are simply trying to predict what’s going to happen and then proceed to remind you how they knew they were right.
The process is lost. The collective narrative is moving away from patience and player development and toward instant results. This is a narrative that threatens the vary fabric of what has made the sport so popular for so long.
Six years ago, I never missed an important NBA game. I had to see it while it was happening. Now, I rarely make the time to watch a game live. Most of the time, I choose to watch a game on DVR so I can spend more time with family. I guess modern technology has its benefits. However, the few playoff games I have watched live I have only been able to keep up with Twitter and the game for a matter of minutes. Modern technology can also be exhausting.
There is something I miss about watching a game and then waiting until the next morning to read the game story and commentary from a select few in my local market. Life moved slower then. The ability to savor the process was easier. That’s not to imply pressure wasn’t put on players, coaches or front office personnel to produce. It’s just that we could at least sit with the results and let them marinate for a few hours as opposed to almost reflexively vomiting into our Twitter apps in real time.
Dr. Travis Heath is a psychologist in private practice and an assistant professor of psychology at MSU Denver. He has served as a team consultant in the NBA. He also co-hosts a show on Mile High Sports Radio weeknights from 6-8 p.m. You can follow him on Twitter @DrTravisHeath.
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