Basketball

Social Media a Fact of Life in Pro Sports

Walk into the Jaguars locker room during the “media availability” time on any given day and there will be a smattering of players arrayed in front of their lockers in various positions of repose with one thing in common: They’re all on their phones. Not talking on their phones, not texting, but looking at their phones, perusing social media.

“Media availability” happens four times a week for about an hour in the middle of the day, between meetings and around lunch. So it might be the only time the players have to check their phones.

While social media has given fans perceived access to their sports heroes, it’s also given players some ownership over a part of their public image and branding.

“My social media is about who I am not about what I have,” said Defensive Lineman Malik Jackson. “I’m fashion forward, so I post some fashion, some things about the team and some stuff about my family. That’s about it. Instagram is visual and written, that’s why I’m on it.”
We used to joke in the sports department about what goes happens on social media. “I woke up this morning thinking maybe Twitter would be nice today,” my colleague Matt used to say. “But then I got on it and.. . . Nope!”
Since becoming the NBA commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has encouraged the use of social media league wide. So much so that it’s become an indelible part of the league’s culture.

“Those guys in the NBA, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Abry Jones said regarding what seems like the constant stream of tweets and post coming from NBA players. “Two hours here, two more there. We don’t have that.”

In 2018, the NBA has already been tweeted about more than any other sports league. The league’s official Twitter account has 27 million followers, 3 million more than the NFL’s. On Instagram, the NBA has 31 million followers, more than the NFL, MLB and the NHL combined. In the NBA, there are 33 players with at least 2 million followers on Instagram. In the NFL, there are nine.

But NFL teams are using social media platforms to expand their reach. The Green Bay Packers have more Twitter followers than the entire population of the Green Bay metropolitan area.

Jalen Ramsey is the most active and followed player on the Jaguars roster. Ramsey has nearly a million social media followers, three-quarters of those on Instagram. He’s created some controversy and has experienced plenty of blowback on social media. So much so that he recently tweeted, “I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me. I ain’t even trippin lol.”

When asked who that was directed at, Ramsey said, ““Whomever. You have something to say, you have some negativity, I guess the fake fans, the fake … Whoever. Whoever.”

While the Lakers’ LeBron James has 44.5 million followers on Instagram, more than the top 12 NFL players on that platform combined, Sixers Guard J.J. Reddick has none. He deleted all of his accounts recently. He believes he was an addict and it was taking away from his real life.

“It’s a dark place,” he told Bleacher Report. “It’s not a healthy place. It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”

“I encourage players to use social to interact with fans and the community,” said Tad Dickman, the Jaguars Director of Public Relations. “If they’re looking for a restaurant, I’d rather them ask fans on Twitter than just go to Yelp looking for a place to eat.”

At the beginning of the season, Dickman, a 29-year old a social media participant himself, conducts a seminar on social media use, gives the players a handbook outlining the do’s and don’ts and how players can use it to their benefit. While the NFL has a broad social media policy, most of the specifics are set team by team.

No game footage can be used and live streaming is prohibited according to NFL policy. For the Jaguars the rules are pretty basic: No pictures or videos that could harm the team. No pictures from the training room or the locker room.

“Just like missing a meeting or being late, violating the rules could involve discipline,” Dickman responded without elaborating when asked if the players could find themselves in trouble posting on social media.

Like any organization with young employees, the Jaguars warn their players about putting out too much information.

“I don’t want people all up in my business,” Jones said, explaining why he limits his social media use to Instagram and even there, not much. “I like to stay in touch with some friends.”

Most Jaguars players have limited their social media to the Instagram platform. And as Jackson alluded to, it seems that everybody on there owns everything and has a fabulous life going on.

“It’s all fake,” fullback Tommy Bohanon, an Instagram participant said with a laugh. “I like to keep up with some friends. I don’t post much, but I scan through it to see what’s going on.”

Bohanon said the negativity on his accounts isn’t an issue. “I don’t care what anybody outside this (locker) room says. They don’t know what’s going on anyway.”

“I’m just on Instagram, I got rid of the rest,” Offensive Lineman Josh Wells explained.

Any trolls?

“Me, no, not me. But I know guys on the team who really get it all over social (media).”

Which is why some players have self-imposed rules.

Famously, James halted his social media posts during the 2015 NBA Playoffs calling it, “Zero Dark Thirty-23” mode.
“No phones, no social media, I don’t have anything,” James said at the time. “There’s too much nonsense out there. Not during this time. This is when I lock in right now, and I don’t need nothing creeping into my mind that don’t need to be there.”
Golden State’s Steph Curry recently stopped his usual ritual of looking at social media at halftime.

“When everybody is watching your game every night, if you let one ounce of negativity or one terrible comment creep in, especially right before a game or at halftime or something, it’s probably not the best bet,” Curry told the Mercury News.
I asked Head Coach Doug Marrone if he’d ever been on social media, he laughed as he headed to practice.
“Never. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, nothing. When I’m gone from here nobody will know how to find me!”
Probably a generational thing, but for sure, social media is a fact of life sports teams will have to continue to deal with in the future.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

That Certain Something

The French have a phrase for it “je ne sai quoi” that certain something I can’t put my finger on. It’s one way you can describe all championship teams. There’s something about them that you can’t quite quantify. You can’t say they have more of something you can’t identify, but you know they have it.

I was at the NBA Finals in Orlando this week and while it was a better match up than most reporters wanted you to believe, the Lakers had whatever it is and the Magic did not. Los Angeles won their 14th NBA title in five games over the Magic, winning two at home and two of three in Orlando. Two of those wins came in overtime, another piece of evidence that the Lakers had that indiscernible thing while the Magic are still searching for it.

Maybe it comes down to the star player on each team. LA has Kobe while the Magic have Dwight Howard. Kobe has a certain will that carries his team. I can see where you could not like him and not like the Lakers. Bryant is a bit of a preener and does get the “superstar” treatment by the refs. But he’s tough and wow is he a great player.

He’s not Michael. He doesn’t go to the basket and will himself there the way Michael did but he has skills that are nearly unmatched.

And he has a dogged-ness about him that does translate through his team. He digs in and so do his teammates.

Howard on the other hand isn’t quite that much of a leader. He has some holes in his game, but he still has that youthfulness, that innocence that doesn’t carry his team through tough times. Maybe he’ll have to be a more complete player to get that done. Hit more foul shots, become more polished on offense and ask more of his teammates. But for now, when things start to go south for the Magic, Howard can’t put the brakes on and drag them back into contention.

That’s why after what happened at the end of game four in regulation, I didn’t think there was any way the Magic could win game five, even at home. They were so devastated by being up by three with ten seconds to play and WITH THE BALL but still lost. I figured they’d put up a fight for a while in game five but if things started not to go their way, they’d fold up.

And that’s what happened.

Los Angeles went on a 16-0 run in the second quarter and the Magic just backed up and seemed to accept a loss as inevitable. And I’m not just talking about Dwight Howard. Hedo, Lewis, Pietrus and the rest looked like they were just there for show most of the time in game five. Maybe they got there a year early. Maybe they hit a bunch of threes in crucial situations in the playoffs to propel them to the finals. And maybe they had just so much talent they couldn’t get out of the way of it if they wanted to. But they didn’t have that certain “something.”

They liked each other, they like to play the game and they like to win, but at the top level, in the Finals, you have to have a little more than what they were equipped with.

So congrats to Kobe for his fourth title and of course, his first without Shaq. But he did have Pau Gasol, perhaps the most under rated player in the league. That guy is not Euro-Soft as he appears. He’s tough, skilled and willing. Not a bad combination for a seven-footer.

Jacksonville’s Otis Smith as the Magic General Manager has pushed the right buttons and has signed the right guys to get them here. Now he’ll have to back it up with some more solid decision-making. Hedo has exercised his option and each team is different form the last. It’s not a lock they’ll be better next year but look for Dwight Howard, without an Olympic year commitment in the off-season, to develop more as an offensive player.

By the way, was I the only person who sensed a slight “tune out” factor between the players and Stan Van Gundy? I’d play for him; I think he’s a very good coach. But it seemed like his act wore a little thin on the players as the series and perhaps as the playoffs wore on.

And lastly, I still hate the 2-3-2 format. Go back to the 2-2-1-1-1 no matter what travel is involved.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

LeBron: Worth Twice the Price

By the time you read this, game 3 of the Eastern Conference championships will probably have been played. It might even be over. The Lakers might be the NBA champions. But this playoff season for the NBA will be known for one shot: The 3-pointer LeBron James hit in game 2 in Cleveland against the Magic.

One second on the clock, down by two, the Cavs get the ball at half court after a timeout. You know, I know, heck, everybody knows that LeBron will get the ball. Hedo Turkolu is guarding him, and not doing a bad job. LeBron gets the ball outside of the arc at the top of the key, and with one motion, lands on two feet, jumps and fires a three pointer that rattles in after the buzzer goes off.

That’s the stuff that legends are made of.

LeBron says it’s his best shot “ever.” In fact, he had a pretty good week shooting the ball. Underhanded from half court, from behind the basket, from a sitting position from the mid-court stripe from all over the place. Maybe we’re supposed to expect him to make this kind of stuff. It’s been called “Jordan-esque” but it was even better than that.

There was no push off, no controversy, nothing but solid basketball and a great play on top of it. You can say they didn’t deny LeBron the ball well enough. That the guy guarding the inbounds pass didn’t adjust. But it wouldn’t have mattered. Great players find a way to be where the ball is, regardless.

Shooting it was a natural act, making it might have involved a little luck, but it’s more like a supernatural skill level. How many guys in the NBA make that shot? Maybe a handful. How many get open to receive the pass? Maybe a handful. And how many can have the athletic ability to get to the ball and get the shot off. Fewer than that. So if you do the math, there are only two or three guys in the league, and these are the best players in the world, who can get open, get the shot off and make it. LeBron is obviously one of them, but this had a more surreal feel to it. Like it was predestined.

As I’ve said many times LeBron is one of the two things (people, whatever) that have exceeded the hype. The other is Tiger Woods.

I knew LeBron would be good coming out of High School. He was of course a man-child at that stage and I thought “once he gets with real men in the game he’ll have to really step it up. Maybe he did, or maybe he just was always that good but he is everything he was advertised to be and more. I’ve made the trip to Orlando a couple of dozen times in the last few years to see different players, including Dwight Howard. Howard is worth the price of admission himself but James is on a whole other level. He’s worth twice the price. I mean he really is otherworldly.

If you get a chance to see him in person, it’s pretty amazing. Not just as a player, but just standing there. He looks like he should be carved on the front of some pharaoh’s tomb. Anyway, legendary doesn’t begin to describe how big that shot was the other night. Like Charles Barkley said on Friday, I can’t wait for the rest of the series.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

NBA Draft Review

For the first time in recent memory, the NBA Draft had some interest, some intrigue and people actually talking about the league even though the games were over. They had this strange triangulation of storylines that drew attention to the draft before it happened instead of afterwards. The top two players were a given as Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were locks to be taken one and two.

I spent some time around Oden at the National C/championship game in Atlanta this year and he’s solid. A very good player who has the potential to be great, it would have been tough to pass on a 7 footer who could be the lynchpin to a championship team for the next ten years. Durant might have better skills right now and might be the bigger impact player right away but he’ll need some guys around him. People have compared him to Michael Jordan and that’s not a stretch. But remember, Jordan had Pippen, Kerry, Horry and others hitting big shots as well.

There was the possibility of a couple of big trades that focused the attention on the draft but none of them actually happened. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett stayed in the same places. Ray Allen was traded and so was Jason Richardson but they weren’t the big blockbusters that had been talked about.

Then there was the Gator factor.

The 1976 Indiana team had three players picked in the top eleven. Could the Florida Gators exceed that? There was lots of speculation about Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, where would they end up and would they find teams where their game fit? Al Horford has the most NBA-ready game and everybody expected him to be picked in the top five.

And that’s how it happened.

Horford went to Atlanta with the third overall pick. The Hawks made the safe selection. Horford developed more of a half court game last year and showed that he can continue to get better.

Brewer went 7th to the Timberwolves. His game is all over the place but there’s just too much athletic talent to ignore. He’s long, fast and fearless. Plays great defense, developed an outside shot and will hustle. He can play three different positions for the Timberwolves, but I think it’ll be fascinating to see Brewer and Garnett in the game at the same time.

Noah was the player people had the most questions about. Without a solid half court offensive game, he’d need to go to the right team using the right system to be successful in the NBA. Phoenix seemed to be the perfect fit with their transition style of play. But Chicago snapped him up at #9, giving the Bulls another solid young player.

Noah could be an 8-point, 12-rebound, 4-blocks per game player and have a long career doing just that. But if he develops more on the offensive end, he’ll be a superstar. He runs the floor and has a passion that you don’t see from a lot of players. I don’t think he’ll be able to get his shot off against the big men in the league right now, but he’ll work at it and it’ll be fun to watch.

Chris Richard and Taurean Green both were picked in the second round giving Florida five players selected. Only Lee Humphrey among the Gators who got significant playing time in the title game didn’t get drafted. But he’ll get some serious looks from teams this summer as a free agent because of his three-point shooting ability. The Nuggets even said he’s a good fit for them based on what he can do from the outside.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Magical Change of Heart

Right up front, I’ll say Billy Donovan is a good guy. Admittedly a good guy who made a mistake, but a good guy nonetheless. Donovan’s reversal after agreeing to be the Orlando Magic’s head coach is a colossal public relations mistake and is so un-Billy that it’s hard to get your mind around it.

Donovan is a very buttoned up guy. He’s thoughtful and honest and loyal and about as thorough a person as you’ll ever meet. How he didn’t think this through to the end is beyond me. Maybe he was being pressured by the Magic and was caught up in the whole idea of being courted. Maybe the money turned his head a bit. But he made a mistake.

He realized that being the Head Coach at a big time Division one school is a lot better job, for him at least, then being another NBA coach on the sidelines. Who did he want to be? Phil Jackson or Dean Smith? Even though his friends advised him to seriously consider the job with Orlando, his friends were all guys who had lost jobs in the NBA. Rick Pitino and Jeff Van Gundy are his two confidants when it comes to coaching and both have been put out on the street by NBA teams. Somewhere in Billy’s mind, he didn’t want to be that guy. He didn’t want to be the college coach who gave it a shot at the NBA and was eventually fired.

And he would have been because they all are.

He’s lost some of his luster, some of his credibility and some of his sainthood among sports fans in general. But he has tried to correct it. The bad thing is how many other lives his two-day sojourn had an effect on. From the fans, players and management of the Magic to the coaches, players and administration at Florida, everybody’s been on a roller coaster for the past week. They didn’t know where they were living, who was going to pay them and in some instances, if they had a job at all. Donovan knows that and that’s one of the reasons he’s called Magic officials again on Tuesday to apologize saying he was “so sorry and didn’t mean to cause any harm.”

The Magic are doing the right thing, making Donovan break the contract. They hired him; they wanted him and by some reports, still want him as their coach. But he’s shown no inclination to change his mind, again, so a legal deal has to be worked out. Reportedly, Billy will have to agree to a five-year non-compete in order to depart from the contract with the Magic without any financial compensation.

There might be a little money changing hands, but I don’t think it’ll be substantial. There should be a little “wiping this egg off my face money” paid to the Magic, who come out holding the bag in this deal.

There’s a theory that if the press conferences were reversed last Friday, that Billy wouldn’t have felt the heartstring pull of Gainesville so late in the day. The Magic wanted to have the big splash of the first press conference, so Gainesville was in the afternoon.

You could see Billy was emotional and that he struggled with the decision but his call to Jeremy on Saturday saying he had had a change of heart must have been a huge shock to the Florida AD. The Gators say they’re riding this thing out until Magic and Donovan make a deal. That’s smart, and shortly thereafter, they’ll sign Billy to an extension and put the thing to rest.

Finally.

Maybe

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jam Session

I played high school basketball and for the past couple of years have renewed my interest in the game on Sunday mornings at the JCA. (Although I haven’t played in a couple of months)

The Jacksonville Jam are in their first year of existence as a professional basketball organization. They’re in the ABA, a far-flung league that gives guys hope that there is a future for them somewhere up the chain of basketball leagues. Part of the Jam’s promotional program is to employ an “11th man” a quasi-celebrity to join in the warm-up, sit on the bench and get a little game time as well.

I was the 11th man last Friday as the Jam played the Atlanta Vision. The Jam are in the playoffs, the Vision are a schedule filling team. So I figured to get some playing time, and even have a chance to score.

“The guys will embrace you,” the team’s PR person told me as I was doing the news live at 5 and 6 from the UNF Arena. And he was right.

“I’m Tony,” one of the post players said to me as they walked on the floor for warm-ups.

I joined the team in the locker room just in time to hear Coach Steve Tucker give his pregame instructions. “I’ve said all along a team will come out of the shadows, why not this one!” Tucker asked the Jam as they huddled in one alcove. He was clearly challenging his team to make a statement tonight.

The actual time on the floor starts just like any other basketball experience: the lay-up drill. The first thing I noticed was that I wasn’t one of the “bigs.” At 6’3” I’m used to being an inside player, somebody who’s asked to bang the boards, set picks and start the break. But in this lay-up line, I was somewhere between small and little.

I made a few lay-ups, missed a few, missed most of the warm-up jumpers but stayed in the drill until the end when an assistant called me over to say, “You’re starting.” I thought that was kind of funny but then he laid it out for me.

“We’re going to win the tip and run “T-Flat.” You go to the baseline with the other four guys while the point brings the ball up. He’ll beat his man and drive the lane; you flash out to the wing and spot up. He’ll feed you the ball and you hit the jumper. Then get back on defense.”

Sounded simple enough.

The Jam do a good job of putting on a show. They have “Jam Idol” before each game, letting fans show their vocal talent and the winners get to sing God Bless America and the National Anthem. They’ve converted one of the racquetball courts into a kid’s playground and another into a merchandise mall. The opening sequence has an NBA feel with music and loud introductions. I was the last starter introduced, slapping low fives with the mascots and joining the team at center court.

“A fast start,” Coach Tucker exhorted his team.

“Get back and play defense after we run the play,” he told me on my way to the floor. “They’ll try and isolate you but after we get the ball back, we’ll call time-out and get you out of there.” I thought I’d get a few trips down the floor but I was now told I’d be out after one possession. I’m not sorry to say I was a little disappointed.

As predicted, we won the tip and headed down the floor on offense.

“Down here Sam,” ABA All-Star Jerry Williams said as he pointed me to the baseline. It all seemed perfectly scripted. And I had practiced the wing jumper in the warm-ups so I felt ready. Sure enough, the point guard beat his man and was driving to the basket. I flashed to the wing and was wide open. And that’s when the guy with the ball pulled up and shot his own 15-foot jumper.

“Wait a minute,” I wanted to scream, but the ball was coming in the other direction already. I picked up the guy who wasn’t being guarded (I found out later he played on the And 1 tour all last year) and luckily, he didn’t get the ball. I was in a good position for the defensive rebound until some 6’10” guy (a teammate called “Spiderman”) swooped in to grab the ball. I was tipped out of bounds and that’s when the timeout was called and I went to the bench.

I sat there for a while watching as the Jam went to work. Inside, outside, three pointers, the talent on the floor was impressive. You could see that each player had skill but all had a little hole in their game. Or they couldn’t quite integrate into a team concept.

Tucker paced the sideline yelling offensive sets “Two game,” “Name,” “Stack,” and many others. Intense doesn’t begin to describe his demeanor. When the Jam had a 42-point lead, I thought I might see the floor. But it wasn’t until a minute remained in the half that I got back in. Two offensive possessions resulted in some time clock burning followed by a defensive double-team in the corner that lead to an errant three pointer at the end of the half.

Tucker’s speech in the locker room was clear and to the point: Send a message to the rest of the league and keep piling on the points. Atlanta had beaten Wilmington just a week earlier, the same Wilmington squad that had beaten the Jam just two nights earlier on the road.

“The worst thing you can do is play them even this half,” Tucker told his team. “Pour it on these guys because they won’t stop playing and send a message to Syracuse and other cities, we’re for real.” That’s when I knew I wouldn’t be playing again but rejoined the team on the bench to watch the 3rd quarter unfold.

Tucker was right; the Vision didn’t quit and quickly chipped into the Jam’s halftime lead.

“When we get back in there,” Williams told his fellow starters, “We need to bring the hammer.” And they did winning 141-95.

And I never touched the ball.

It was fun though, getting a first hand look at the team and the talent. Tucker is serious and the players are accountable to him and each other. They’re plenty talented, but like I said they all have a hole, however small, in their game. I can’t imagine how good the guys in the NBA must be!

I’ll stick to the Sunday morning game.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Where’s The Line

How is it that so many people seem so intent on killing the goose that lays the golden egg? As a league, the NBA has survived drugs and violence, a strike and general stupidity. But the latest incident in Detroit gives the league a big black eye that won’t go away for a while. NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Ron Artest for the remainder of the season and his Pacers teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal 30 and 25 games respectively for their role in Friday’s melee. All three went into the stands after fans and caused the biggest flap the league has seen since, well ever.

When Kermit Washington hit Rudy Tomjonovich in the face, that was between two players. It was indicative of the undercurrent in the league at the time. Not a place for the faint of heart. But this is completely different. Artest had become a flash point in the league with his ridiculous and childish behavior on the court and his laughable recent request for some personal time to promote his rap album. He became the poster child for everything that the league is that people can’t stand. Boorish behavior by outlandishly wealthy athletes isn’t anything new, but Artest was taking it to all new heights.

“I’m a little worn out coach; can I have a couple of days off to promote my upcoming rap album?”

When Pacers coach Rick Carlisle heard that, I’m sure his first reaction was that Artest was kidding. But when he realized he was serious, Carlisle reacted just like he should have. He benched Artest for two games. When Latrell Spreewell said he “couldn’t feed his family,” on the $7 million a year the Timberwolves were paying him, the reporters laughed; until they realized he was serious.

Where do these guys get these ideas?

That’s easy.

From junior high school, they’re pampered and coddled and told they’re the greatest in the world. And it continues as they get older. They surround themselves with people who tell them how great they are until they start to believe it. Nothing seems too outrageous to them. Even going into the stands to fight somebody who threw a cup of ice on them. The ground work had been laid for some sort of wild scene in the league involving Artest, but we thought it would be between Artest and another player, not some fans.

When Artest committed a hard (perhaps flagrant) foul against Ben Wallace, Wallace turned and shoved him, challenging him to some kind of fight. But Artest didn’t want any part of Wallace, and backed meekly off toward the scorers table. Who knows what was said over there, but whatever was going on lead to a cup of ice being thrown at Artest and the melee ensued.

Isn’t it ironic that Artest wanted no part of Wallace (who would have beaten him to a pulp) but was more than willing to attack some skinny guy five rows up? If two guys are playing in the park and one guy throws a cup of ice in another guy’s face, does that instantly lead to a big fight? And if so, when the guy who caught the face full of ice beats the other guy to the ground, what happens? He goes to jail is what happens, and that should be an option with Artest, O’Neal and Jackson and any other player who goes into the stands at any sporting contest.

Isn’t it ironic that Artest had his wits about him enough to back off from Wallace, but suddenly lost it when a fan was involved? Nobody has to draw the line for the players or the fans. The line is right there on the edge of the playing surface, no matter what sport is involved. Fans don’t belong in the game, and players don’t belong in the stands. The media promotes the notion that the fans are a big part of the game, that somehow they can have an effect on the outcome. But that’s from their seat in the stands. Players know the rules, and don’t try and pass off that “heat of the moment” argument.

No matter what the circumstances, if you’re life’s not threatened, stay out of the stands. All Artest had to do was point at the guy in the stands and security would have taken him away. But somewhere in his twisted thought process, Artest bought into his own thug fantasy. Maybe because he listens to rap music and recorded a rap album he fashioned himself as a tough guy. And maybe he is. But for now, he’s a tough guy without a job for the rest of the year and a reputation as a player who can’t be counted on as a teammate.

As the NBA teeters between sport and folly, Stern is trying to send a clear message. Hopefully the rest of the players are listening.