If there’s one place that has changed the world and the way it works, it’s Silicon Valley and the larger Bay Area. Both the film industry and, of course, the technological revolution, were spurred in this area. Over the years, Northern California has been a revolutionary force in the modern world.
In the NBA, this statement runs especially true. The Golden State Warriors, now situated in San Francisco, have won an NBA championship in three of the last five seasons and have reinvented the league since their dynasty began.
Three specific areas can be analyzed to understand the Warriors’ impact. First, three-pointers have been attempted at record rates after their first championship in 2015. Not only that, the NBA now has a newfound emphasis on small ball, where size is no longer the be-all-end-all for NBA talent. And finally, executives have changed their draft strategies (in other words, the shift to sheer skill being emphasized over all else). The NBA simply isn’t the same as it was before the Warriors took it by storm.
While this revolution has undoubtedly been great for ratings, merchandise, attendance, and much more, there have been immense drawbacks to this never-before-seen NBA that can’t be ignored. All of this has created a star culture in the league that has begun to drown out recognition and respect for players who provide value in ways other than scoring, such as defense, playmaking, and athleticism. This is most clearly displayed by the NBA media, social media, and many other productive NBA stars as well.
One clear-cut example of this would be the Philadelphia 76ers starting point guard, Ben Simmons. When looking at his resume, especially at the young age of 24, many would expect Simmons to be getting worldwide praise, as his accolades already include two all-star appearances, a rookie of the year award, an all NBA third-team appearance, and a first-team all-defensive appearance as well.
Beyond this, Simmons has also attained some under-the-table statistical achievements, such as being one of three players ever to average a career stat-line of 16.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists, and assisting on 782 three-pointers since his NBA debut (the most in the league during that time frame). In particular, Simmons’ record assist numbers on 3-point shots have been able to manifest due to the Warriors’ evident “3-point revolution” sparked by their recent championship dynasty. This shows how, although Simmons might not be the elite shooter coveted in this modern Warriors dominated NBA, he still fits the mold of making 3-pointers happen.
But in response to these impressive achievements, the NBA world continues to flout its obsessions with placing Simmons into trade rumor talks, rather than the all-time NBA records conversations he belongs in for his historical defensive and all-around performances.
This lack of respect hasn’t been constrained to just individuals on the internet, as many current and former NBA players have launched unwarranted, nonsensical attacks on Simmons. One of the many examples of this came from at-the-time Brooklyn Nets Forward Jared Dudley who said in a post-game press conference, “Once you slow him up in the half-court, I think he’s average.” And yet, he continues to put on a show night in and night out, while putting up unprecedented, historical numbers.
When we see such a stellar talent like Simmons receiving criticism from NBA circles, despite his historic pace, this raises the question of how both NBA media and fans respond to players who are extremely valuable but don’t necessarily fit the revolutionary mold cast by the Warriors’ dynasty.
Branding has always played a role in the NBA, but the emergence of social media has placed an emphasis on rewarding players who transform themselves into larger-than-life personalities. If an NBA player wants to maximize their earning potential, they must do more than exhibiting their prowess at the sport. A 2020 Samford University study showed that for every additional one million Twitter followers an NBA player has, they earn about $400,000 more.
In this system, it is not enough to simply play basketball. An NBA player must build a personal brand and persona that draws in fans and companies alike. Before the playoffs, Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams said that he would be staying off Instagram until his team won the 16 games necessary to become NBA champions. While one might applaud him for putting basketball first and blocking out distractions, the current NBA system penalizes Williams’ decision by leaving untapped bonuses on the table that come from being on social media, despite the fact that he is coming off his two most productive seasons.
While necessary in almost all facets of life, change, especially when it occurs rapidly, can bring forth ramifications that go unnoticed. With the Warriors changing the way basketball has been played in almost every aspect, it has especially been consequential for the way we perceive what stardom means and how players are rewarded.
When we see how social media followings can bolster players’ value, this certainly needs to raise red flags among fans. Do we intend to support a league where flash and flare are rewarded more than skill and value on the court? Personally, I know I hope to watch a league and leave behind one for future generations that reward hard work and production on the court, rather than non-basketball related factors.
We are the fans that give the NBA the money and attention it needs to function, and we can set the tone for the league we hope to see; let’s never take this for granted.