Steph Curry, the NBA’s First Viral Star, Breaks Opponents, and the Internet, Too
The league’s first Internet superstar plays basketball 2.0.
Check out this GIF. It’s transfixing. Steph Curry is weaving through the arms of the NBA’s best defensive center (DeAndre Jordan), one of the league’s best defensive point guards (Chris Paul), a man so committed to defense he drove 95 miles to beat up a man dating his ex-wife (Matt Barnes), and a 7-footer with a man bun (Spencer Hawes). None of them catch up to him.
Then Curry, the best basketball player on Earth, casually steps back and takes a 26-footer. I don’t even need to tell you this, but it goes in. It doesn’t touch the rim. The end of the GIF reveals two guys on his own team standing around by the midcourt line, just watching the show.
The Legend of Michael Jordan was born of the television and Nike ads and SportsCenter. Joe DiMaggio’s myth was made of tabloids and cigarette ads and Marilyn Monroe.
Steph Curry makes a beautiful six-second video. After each jaw-dropping new play, the rush is on. America’s most prolific children of the Vine are rewinding their DVRs, trying to be the first one to get a grainy Zapruder film of it up on Twitter so that they can get sweet, precious retweets. This kind of thing will happen, oh, twice per game.
Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors broke the NBA record for wins Wednesday night, just like he’s broken the brains of coaches and the concept of defense and everything else.
But here’s Steph Curry’s silent killing: Because of GIFs like this, he broke the timesheet at the league’s website.
“We’ve adjusted our staffing schedules to follow our coverage of Steph,” said Morgan Dewan. “We do measurements on every post we do. He over-performs every single time.”
Such is the strife of Dewan’s crew at Turner Sports, which runs the league’s digital operations, website, NBATV, and the NBA on TNT. She’s the senior director of social media there, which now means managing a team that distributes a ludicrous amount of Steph Curry videos on Vine and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and Flurf and any other social media service that we may or may not have just made up—all at a record pace.
They have no other choice.
This might marginalize the best basketball player of a generation, but there’s no other way to put it: Steph Curry is the first NBA superstar the Internet built. All of the stats prove it.
According to internal NBA data provided to The Daily Beast, Steph Curry was mentioned 12 million times on Twitter in the last 90 days. That’s 40 percent more than the second-biggest story in the NBA right now—the retiring Kobe Bryant. It’s twice as many mentions as Nike’s Half-Billion Dollar Man, LeBron James. And it’s seven times as many mentions as any other player—from Russell Westbrook to Carmelo Anthony.
In order for the league to capitalize on it—and not get beat by sports blogs like SBNation or Twitter users like ClippersSuck42069696969—they’ve refitted their strategy to meet the demands of Steph. And it’s had enormous results.
“The NBA is a league of superstars, but we’re seeing something different with him. Something we’ve seen emerge in the last few years is team ball,” said Dewan. Team ball, by the way, is a style of play that focuses heavily on passing and less on one superstar, thus providing less face time to any single player. “But he’s an unassuming superstar. He’s presented a perfect storm, in this environment, to become the megastar that he is.”
Steph plays team ball, but there are moments when he overrides it and takes over a game. And those moments—which tend to be less than six seconds and attached to a guy people tend to like—end up everywhere, instantly.
He has provided very, very little to dislike, even in a sports culture where ESPN has dedicated 14 programming hours per day to shows that could be renamed “Here’s Who to Hate Now” without anyone noticing for six weeks.
Instead, everything’s a BuzzFeed video in the Curry universe. He brings his whip-smart 3-year-old daughter Riley to the podium with him after he wins Playoff games.
His wife, Ayesha, is such a Twitter staple, she even got a cooking show out of the whole thing. In December, when she found herself in a mock outrage Twitter pseudo-controversy, TMZ made a beeline to defend her.
Off the court, the Currys, intentionally or not, have become the royal family—sorry, King James—of the NBA’s non-news content generation machine.
And then twice per game, for 82-plus games a year, Steph crosses up a lost defender or hits a 40-foot buzzer beater to win a game, then leaves it to the Web to figure it out.
“Just as SNL skits are the perfect length for YouTube, Stephen Curry’s highlights are perfect for Vine,” said Ryne Nelson, who runs the web operations over at SLAM Magazine (where, full disclosure, the author sometimes writes.) “On any given night, Steph will account for at least a couple highlights that drive the brunt of SLAM’s traffic. Curry’s highlights on Vine alone are a goldmine for web traffic that publications, including SLAM, have been tapping into this season.”
And where other leagues have run scared of unlicensed—albeit likely fair use—videos of their most profitable moments, the NBA has made a strategy out of it. And it’s working.
The breathing succubi of goodwill that is the NFL’s PR department got the Twitter accounts of two of the world’s most popular sports sites—Deadspin and SBNation—temporarily banned from Twitter for posting GIFs of their games in October. It was a brand new, inventive way for the NFL to piss off its fans.
Meanwhile, the NBA is often the first one to Twitter with HD-quality highlights of Steph’s latest tricks. And it’s attracting NBA fans who didn’t even know they were NBA fans.
“There are only so many hardcore fans, so we try to get the casual fan and bleed the lines between sports and pop culture,” said Dewan. “A lot of credit goes to the league for giving us the runway. They didn’t have to, but they did.”
Steph even has Dewan’s mom hooked, but it started with videos of Riley. And that’s how Curry gets you.
One second, you’re watching a kid charm you on a podium, or reading a G-rated Twitter controversy with which his wife is tangentially involved, and the next second you’re left dumbstruck by the craziest basketball shot you’ve ever seen.
“He not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk,” said Dewan. “He’s a bona fide superstar.”
If you can spare a second, you can see the greatness of Steph Curry. And the league knows it.