“BOOM! Another dunk for Clark! That works out to 40 points per night!” exclaimed the commentator. The atmosphere in the room was filled with enthusiasm, vivacity and anticipation as we looked forward to the next spectacular move from Sky Clarke, an eighth grader on the Division 1 team at DePaul University. My iPad was in the spotlight as we admired Clarke’s ball handling skills, high dunks and impressive shooting. The Internet has changed youth basketball, forcing players to prioritize showing off their skills over adding value to the team. This shift has contributed to the development of individualism and selfishness, which is contrary to the fundamental principles of basketball.
Players can easily access the content of their favorite long-range 3-pointers, show off flashy pens, and throw shots to others. It’s understandable why someone might want a personalized highlight reel that only shows their best moments. Take, for example, Julian Newman, a child prodigy who, at the age of 10, was showing great results at the university. Despite having “amassed over 600,000 followers on Instagram… Newman failed to reach the college level of the game.” Newman is a prime example of how dazzling moments can’t be matched by raw footage and playing talent when it comes to determining a player’s competence. The influence of the media on basketball is undeniable, and it has shifted the focus from teamwork and friendly competition to individual entertainment.
Now the question is, why do today’s players have such an unhealthy obsession with highlights? Obviously having cameras capturing every corner is a major factor. Players know they are being recorded and will do their best to stand out and not be embarrassed. This means that they will go against the game plan to make a flashy play, or they will not try to defend themselves to avoid breaking their ankles or being posterized by another player. The last thing any gamer would want to see is themselves on a YouTube thumbnail, humiliated in front of millions of viewers. To increase the pressure, operators often encourage players to play with high risk and high reward, even if it means deviating from their coach’s play pattern or at the expense of the team. This is because footage can generate significant revenue through views and subscribers, benefiting both the player’s popularity and the media company itself. In a capitalist environment, filmmakers are fiercely competitive for attention, and the pursuit of cliques, fame, and profit is paramount.
Some players have realized the detrimental effect of the media on their game. JJ Redick, a former NBA player and impressive shooter, retired all media in 2018. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Redick stated that the media “[Is] a dark place… It’s an unhealthy place… if we’re talking about some kind of Freudian (expletive). It’s just a cycle of anger, approval and tribalism.” Relying on cell phones for confidence is no longer healthy, and the hidden competition to outdo each other only exacerbates this effect. Obviously, social media is now an integral part of our society, but players can still take steps to mitigate their negative impact. One strategy is to use social media sparingly or avoid it altogether, as Redick did. Another tactic is to unfollow accounts that provoke comparisons. The bottom line is that we are still in control of our own environment. We just need to be smart about how we maneuver because social media and court cameras aren’t going away anytime soon.
Competition is at the core of human nature. As Thomas Hobbes states,[equality] naturally leads to conflict between people for three reasons: rivalry, distrust, and fame. Humans have always had to compete, whether for resources or to ensure successful reproduction. In the current era of social media and viral videos, the competition has evolved to focus on visibility and chances of success, especially in the context of basketball. Players need to stop equating the best films with achievements and understand that they can still have a great career without acting so selfishly.