“BOOM! There’s another dunk for Clark! That makes it 40 points for the night!” exclaimed the commentator. The atmosphere in the room was charged with enthusiasm, liveliness and anticipation as we eagerly awaited the next spectacular move from Skyy Clark, an eighth-grade player who had committed to DePaul University’s Division 1 team. My iPad was the focal point of everyone’s attention, as we marveled at Clark’s crafty ball-handling, high-flying dunks and impressive shooting. The internet has transformed youth basketball, leading players to prioritize showcasing their skills over benefiting the team. This shift has promoted individualism and selfishness, which contradicts basketball’s fundamental principles.
Players can easily access content of their favorite players shooting deep-range 3-pointers, showing off flashy handles and slam-dunking on others. It’s understandable why anyone would desire a personalized highlight reel that showcases only their best moments. Take Julian Newman, for instance, a prodigy who was already putting up big numbers on varsity at just 10 years old. Despite having “amassed over 600,000 Instagram followers…Newman failed to make it to the collegiate level of play.” Newman is a prime example of how dazzling highlights cannot compare to raw footage and in-game talent when it comes to determining the competence of a player. The media’s influence on basketball is undeniable, and this 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 highlight reels? Clearly the presence of cameras capturing every angle is a major contributing factor. Players know they are being recorded and will do whatever it takes to stand out and avoid being embarrassed. This means they will go against the game plan to make a flashy play, or not try on defense to avoid “getting their ankles broken” or posterized by another player. The last thing any player would want to see is themselves on a YouTube thumbnail being humiliated in front of millions of viewers. To add to the pressure, cameramen often encourage players to attempt high-risk, high-reward plays, even if it means deviating from their coach’s game scheme or coming at the expense of the team. This is because the footage can generate substantial revenue through views and subscribers, which benefits both the popularity of the player and the media company itself. In a capitalist environment, filmers are in fierce competition for attention and the desire for clicks, fame and profits are the most important.
Some players have realized the harmful effects that the media has on their performance. JJ Redick, a former NBA player and spectacular sharpshooter, deleted all forms of media in 2018. In an interview by Bleacher Report, Redick stated that the media “[Is] a dark place… It’s not a healthy place… if we’re talking about some Freudian (expletive). It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism.” Relying on cell phones for confidence is already unhealthy and the underlying competition to out-do each other only worsens this effect. It is evident that social media is now an integral part of our society, but players can still take measures to reduce their negative effects. One strategy is to use social media sparingly, or avoid it altogether, like Redick did. Unfollowing accounts that instigate comparison is another tactic. The bottom line is we are still in control of our own environment. We just need to be smart about how we maneuver through it because social media and cameras on the court are not going away anytime soon.
Competition is at the root of human nature. As Thomas Hobbes states, “[equality] naturally leads to conflict among individuals for three reasons: competition, distrust and glory.” Humans have always had to compete, whether it was for resources or to ensure successful reproduction. In today’s era of social media and viral videos, competition has evolved to focus on visibility and chances for success, especially in the context of basketball. Players must stop equating highlight films to achievement and realize they can still have a great career without playing so selfishly.