Your Favorite Team Might Be A Meme: Sports Fandom’s Social Media Renaissance
This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s summer editorial intern PJ Cunningham. Find him on Instagram at @peachycunningham. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at email@example.com.
I remember my first NBA game… From the roar of the fans to the bouncing of the ball to the smell of the arena popcorn, I was immersed in the event.
Today, however, the fan experience for both new young fans and devoted season-ticket holders alike is as much about the phone as it is about the court or field. In an era defined by technological development and social media growth, sports fandom has evolved. No trend is more evident of this than the rise of NBA meme culture.
NBA Meme Culture: Hot Takes & Hilarious Trends
Social media content regarding sports is as vast and varied as the internet itself and the NBA meme ecosystem is no exception. NBA memes can range from the conventional to the absurdist. In the embarrassing amount of hours I spend scouring platforms including Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, I have seen everything from fanbases mocking opposing teams with memes to franchises such as the Brooklyn Nets posting memes about their players’ last names to highlight reels of NBA benchwarmers set to songs from artist Clairo. Seriously, there is a whole account dedicated to clips of obscure players with indie music behind them. It is as awesome as you’d expect.
This seemingly random mishmash of content represents something far bigger than it appears though. While varied and often humorous, NBA players memes illustrate a growing trend: the ability for individual fans to not only connect better with their passions but also express themselves through them.
Sports fandom is an expression of identity. Through social media and the layered nature of memes, that expression can now exist outside the confines of a stadium. It can connect millions of fans and even allow them to feel closer to their passions than ever before.
Negativity: When Posts Become Problematic
This social media-driven renaissance of sports fandom has not come without baggage, however. The increase in online fan engagement is accompanied by an increase in harassment, insults and abuse. While the angry fan of yesterday had to buy a ticket or yell at an inanimate TV to express anger at players, social media has allowed fans to attack, mock and defame athletes through the simple touch of a screen. This has real-world effects and can even lead to players feeling isolated and depressed, as highlighted in a Guardian article by Sam Yip. Nearly every athlete, including NBA players, has social media accounts for marketing and personal use, which makes them vulnerable to cyber-harassment. Superstars and small-time players alike have been lambasted, given insulting nicknames and mocked for their appearance.
Just like other areas of the internet, toxicity is unfortunately alive and well in NBA social media spheres and this needs to be addressed by both individual fans and the sporting community as a whole.
There is more than just doom and gloom, however. There is also space for growth.
The Present and the Future
I had the chance to interview Jack, a member of the NBA meme community, who posts both humorous and serious NBA-related commentary under the name of @JokicJoestar, a moniker inspired by Serbian NBA star Nikola Jokic. With over 51,000 followers and nearly 6 million likes on his posts, Jack (@JokicJoestar) is a recognizable face for many hoops fans who use TikTok. His posts, which have featured both fun highlights of niche ‘fan favorites,’ and serious commentary exemplify how the complexities of social media can alter sports fandom.
“I think players have been viewed more as commodities the entire time the NBA has been around, and social media has gone a long way in humanizing them for me personally,” Jack (@JokicJoestar) said. “There is a direct line of communication, between fans and the players they idolize now, and while it’s usually pretty one-sided conversation, the fact that the players don’t need to find a media outlet to publish something and can be very off the cuff with their words online it makes them feel way more tangible than stars of the past, sitting at a table in front of the press or doing an interview for 90% of their interaction with the public.”
Additionally, this increased ability for a player-centric pulpit has allowed fans to better empathize with social movements and player struggles, as seen during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests by NBA teams.
“I think social media has done a fairly good job at showcasing intersectionality, and how nothing exists in a vacuum,” Jack (@JokicJoestar) said. “People like to use sports as an escape from the stress of real life, and to some extent, I understand that, but at the same time, the NBA is a league largely driven and built by Black people, and a lot of those people were greatly affected by systemic issues built into a lot of American institutions as children or on their way to the league. I like to think social media can help people understand both of those facts. When people start seeing these athletes as humans, I think it’s easier for them to recognize that they haven’t always gotten millions of dollars to play basketball.”
For this main reason, Jack (@JokicJoestar) is optimistic about the ability of social media, despite its many faults, to allow for positive changes in NBA fandom. This is a sentiment I agree with.
While the abuse and issues will need long-term reduction and solutions, the renaissance of online sports fandom is in its infancy. It carries tremendous potential and through its humor and accessibility, it may just pave a path for a new audience of young fans to discover the world of sports just as I did.
At the end of the day, this is about more than just NBA players memes. This is about society, fandom, creativity, culture and most importantly, fun. So, let’s have some.
What are your favorite NBA players memes? Let us know in the comments below!