On February 27th, Steph Curry capped off one of the more remarkable regular season games in NBA history.
Gracefully, effortlessly, he nailed a 28 foot game-winning buzzer beater—his 12th three-pointer of the night.
Watching the game live, but by myself, I sought a social connection that could properly contextualize what just transpired. So I went to Twitter. All of NBA Twitter—writers, players, fans, executives, and really anybody who remotely cared—were, like myself, giddy and awestruck by Curry’s heroics.
And nearly as soon as the game-winning shot went through the basketball ring, it appeared on the internet in the form of vines/gifs/photos/memes to allow for repeat viewing and commentary.
It’s in this digital space where the NBA, and thus its stakeholders, are thriving.
For sports fans in today’s age, the above situation is one we’re likely all familiar with: You witness something exhilarating and then go to your phone to gauge how the rest of the world is reacting.
Only certain sports leagues feel that they can—and should—control how these moments are disseminated.
The NFL, for instance, had two prominent sports publishers’ Twitter accounts suspended last season for using NFL highlights in GIFs, a supposed copyright violation. This is emblematic of the NFL’s draconian policies in virtually all corners of the internet; you’ll struggle to find highlights on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter that aren’t from accounts directly operated by the league itself. And if you do, there’s a good chance the NFL will work to have it removed.
In contrast, NBA commissioner Adam Silver takes the view that “highlights are marketing,” a stance that’s reflected in their lax copyright policies. Want a clip of Michael Jordan’s famous 1991 dunk on Patrick Ewing? You’re in luck, because there are countless versions on YouTube and virtually none are officially affiliated with the NBA.
The NBA’s embrace of social media isn’t just about allowing the general public to post without fear of repercussions, though.
In its own marketing and social practices, the league has also shown a desire to be ahead of the curve. A :30 spot they’ve run during these playoffs, for instance, prominently features social media star Brandon Armstrong, who went viral last year for his inspired impersonations of NBA superstars.
And in the social space, team-operated accounts are allowed to post videos natively to social networks without being forced to link back to an official team site. The NBA was the first sports league to give their teams’ social coordinators this sort of freedom, and it’s helping to shape deeper engagement from the league’s active social audience.
As of now, the NBA still falls behind the other two goliath American professional sports leagues (NFL and MLB) in earned revenue. But given baseball’s dwindling popularity with young fans and the NFL facing tough long-term answers to its growing legion of detractors, the NBA’s laissez-faire approach to social media is endearing the league to a new and highly digitalized generation at an opportune time.
So enjoy the NBA Finals. And your crying Jordan memes, because they’ve been fostered by a professional sports league that’s allowed creativity, shared experiences, and discussion to flourish.