In watching some of the pointless Occupy ____(insert city)____ protests that have gone on for the past month and a half, I have sometimes wondered what it would look like if NBA fans staged their own Occupy NBA protest during the lockout. Would we march at the hotel that the players’ union and owners were meeting at in New York? Or at NBA HQ in New York? Or at the court house in Minnesota where the anti-trust lawsuits would be taking place at? Instead of hippies and out of work yuppies, I could see a whole bunch of middle-aged men with their basketball jerseys on, dribbling basketballs throughout the parking lot. I could see young men trucking in portable goals and holding 3 on 3 tournaments in protest of the lockout. I could see someone bringing out a boombox and jamming to John Tesh’s Roundball Rock. But alas, that takes too much time and money to protest like that, and NBA fans have to do something to pay for the season tickets and NBA League Pass that they have. Instead, NBA fans protested in a new manner. They took their protesting to Twitter. And you know what, it actually had an impact.
Twitter and the NBA is a match made in heaven. In all of the sport leagues, NBA players are the most accessible. They don’t wear helmets so it’s easy to see and recognize the players. They don’t have heavy armor on, so it’s easy for fans to try and dissect the meaning of their tattoos and get deeper into the psyche of that player. Because of this, NBA fans develop more of a connection, whether real or fantasized, with players than do the fans of other sports leagues. I love the Oklahoma Sooners football team, but I couldn’t pick their center, Ben Habern, out of a lineup if I tried. But I could recognize Minnesota’s back up center (Nikola Pekovic) in a crowded mall if I saw him.
Another thing that is instantly recognizable about the NBA and its players through Twitter, is that they are all friends. The basketball culture is completely different than the football culture and the baseball culture. Because these players have been playing together in AAU and cross country camps for the better part of their high school careers, there develops a strong common bond that unites these players together as they move on in their respective basketball journeys. And it becomes very apparent on Twitter, as players from different teams communicate with each other more often then they they probably do with their own mothers.
When you add the fact that fans can now actually communicate with your favorite players, that brings NBA fandom to another level. So, it was only a matter of time before NBA fans would take to Twitter to a) express their displeasure with the lockout or b) express their support to the players. Most players dismissed anything the fans said, but some players, Thunder center Nazr Mohammed, in particular, took to the Twitter-waves to quell any misunderstandings and explain to fans exactly what the players had given up and why they were fighting so hard. For a while, this actually worked in the players’ favor, as they were getting most of the public sentiment. But as the lockout dragged on, fans, and even some players, grew more and more frustrated, and took to the Twitter-waves to express that angst.
But not only were fans and players able to use Twitter to express their feelings, basketball sportswriters also became primetime commodities during the lockout, especially when there was a meeting between the two sides happening. What used to be interesting tidbits that would appear in books written 10 years after an event, became instant news once it happens (i.e. Dwayne Wade’s blow-up against David Stern, Stern going home with the flu, Michael Jordan going all Scarface on the players that adored him and playing “the bad guy”, the players’ “STAND” shirts, etc.). Howard Beck, David Aldridge, Marc Stein, Larry Coon, and Chris Sheridan all became my new best friends every time the two sides had one of their meetings. These sportswriters provided a riveting play by play of legal negotiations as they were happening. They gave the back drops to what was going on, like who stepped out and why they stepped out. I, for one, took it all in. I was entranced by these negotiations and found myself almost wanting the lockout to continue so that I could “hear” the play by play of the negotiations by the sportswriters. Plus it was fun to hear FalseHoop and his followers come up with #ReasonsForLongLockoutMeeting.
This all led to instant fan reaction. There was no need for sportswriters to put up surveys or take polls. The pulse of the fans was on full display, live and direct, with their tweets of displeasure and support. After each meeting that ended in disappointment, the pulse of the fans became more and more frustrated. Even worse for the NBA, some of the fans were becoming more and more apathetic. Don’t discount for a second the impact this had on Stern and the owners. With all the talk of a nuclear winter, the NBA did not want to turn into the NHL and have to play games on ION or SiTV when they came back a year or two later. Instead, they went back to the table, made a couple concessions, made the players feel better, and came to an agreement. And guess where I heard it first…….on Twitter.