The Era of the “Woj Bomb” – Twitter’s Impact on NBA Reporting

It was 2:45 PM last Thursday, and I was in my room endlessly refreshing Google Chrome, glued to the front-page of the Reddit’s r/NBA , the biggest forum of basketball fans on the Internet. We were 15 minutes away from the NBA Trade Deadline, and I was trying desperately to keep up with the absurd flurry of moves going on, with contenders looking to shore up their rosters with that final “missing piece” and less successful teams looking to secure assets for a bright future. Among many other trades, the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers traded a third of their team in about half-an-hour, setting up the talking heads for a solid week of back-and-forth over Lebron James’ finals chances and future. Did these moves get them back on track? Will he bring another one to “the Land”? I kept refreshing, with the Twitter links flying in faster than I could even click on them, each reporter desperate to get the scoop first and the analysis rolling.

Like all professional sports leagues, the NBA is active on social media, but no league has been able to utilize the platform as successfully. No other professional sport is so connected to the platform that it has created its own subculture connected to Twitter, with the phrase “NBA twitter” carrying with it the connotation of endless inside jokes bridging the gaps between teams, players, and fans. It seems quaint in comparison to now, but Twitter has been in the NBA’s spotlight since February 2009, when the NBA officially created its Twitter account. Their first tweet is a simple celebration of their “Where Amazing Happens” campaign, hardly hinting at the ways Twitter would transform the brand in the coming years. 27.3 million followers later, the NBA endures in the Twitter-sphere.

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A full analysis of the NBA’s embrace of Twitter could fill a whole book, so in this blog post I’ll be tackling the unique phenomenon of the pursuit of breaking news, a pursuit that has elevated some reporters to a status of cult-like reverence in NBA fan circles.

If there is a president of NBA Twitter, it is undoubtedly Adrian Wojnarowski, or “Woj” as he is known to his fanboys. Formerly with Yahoo Sports, this ESPN analyst has a knack for delivering the most important NBA news straight to your Twitter feed as soon as it happens, with nary a spelling mistake in sight. All those trades the Cavaliers made that I mentioned? You probably heard it first from Woj, or at least one of his 2.26 million followers spreading his gospel. Every “Woj bomb” sends shockwaves through the NBA and NBA fandom. How is this man so knowledgeable about what teams are doing? Who are his sources? These questions, of course left unanswered, are all part of his mystique. His move to ESPN at the start of the NBA free agency period in 2017 was huge news in sports journalism. As the Boston Globe stated succinctly a September 2017 article, “ESPN couldn’t beat Adrian Wojnarowski, so it hired him”. Woj, a no name reporter only years before, was now one of the hottest commodities around for the biggest sports media empire the world has seen.

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It poses an interesting question about how priorities have changed in sports journalism. Detailed analysis is often not what gets people excited, it is the allure of that next scoop that excites fans and gets them in a frenzy. Look at how one man, Woj, and his sacred sources made for a more captivating follow than whole websites full of NBA journalism. It’s not that genuine analysis is gone; my personal favorite NBA writer, ESPN’s Zach Lowe, has a good Twitter following of his own (625,000 strong), and still writes in-depth articles full of analytics and brainy analysis. His reputation among “NBA twitter” is esteemed and continues to flourish. Wojnarowski himself is also not a one trick pony, as he too writes longform articles alongside his big breaking news. But the allure of a popular tweet can also lead to an embrace of ludicrous drama that has little substance to offer.

The saga of DeAndre Jordan, a free agent of the LA Clippers who verbally agreed to sign with the Dallas Mavericks in 2015, only to renege and go back to LA days later, is maybe the most dramatic example. As the drama and betrayal escalated, the tweets reached tabloid levels of absurdity: in one memorable example, ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted that Dallas’s celebrity owner Mark Cuban was “driving around downtown Houston begging…Jordan’s family 4 address to DeAndre’s home”, painting Cuban like some sort of jealous lover desperate to get in touch . The tweet was so ridiculous that Broussard would apologize to Cuban, but not before Cuban fired back with a tweet of his own.

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It’s a story that would have had been far less dramatic in the non-Twitter era. But with Twitter leading the charge, fans got instant access to every twist and turn, even as questionably basketball-related as some of them turned out to be. This also happened recently with Lebron James and his “Return” to Cleveland, Kevin Durant’s dramatic move to Golden State, and really any major NBA news: it becomes far more than just the original story. Every side story becomes drama all its own, inviting jokes, memes, and hot takes galore. I’m as guilty as any fan of enjoying the chaos. It can be fun to laugh with other fans at things like the Jordan fiasco, and it’s easier than ever with Twitter and social media. The internet’s obsession with Lonzo Ball and the “Big Baller Brand” is the latest example. But I do think it’s important that fans should see quality journalism rise above the sometimes-overwhelming sea of tweets. They can certainly complement each other, and I think they do, but let’s not get to caught up in every “Woj Bomb” we see. Twitter can reward breaking news and analysis alike, and create mutual benefit for the average basketball fan, and for the growth of the NBA brand.

Boston Globe Article

8 comments

  1. As someone who spent trade deadline day doing the same thing, I appreciated this post. I think the most exciting part about trades is the players’ responses on Twitter to them. For example, Blake Griffin tweeted a hilarious GIF when he was traded last week. Kobe Bryant gave a shoutout to the young Lakers stars who were traded to Cleveland. In my opinion, I would rather sit on my phone refreshing Twitter waiting for the next big trade than wait for ESPN to tell me on TV or through their app. The up-to-date nature of Twitter allow NBA journalists and analysts like the ones you mentioned to get even the smallest bit of the massive NBA following to follow them. To be honest, it is hard to say if Woj would have ever been able to blow up like he has if Twitter did not exist. I guess that is the power of social media! I’m looking forward to the next big day like this–the NFL Draft.

  2. I do think this phenomenon is exacerbated/ enhanced in the NBA, because the NBA is so active and strong on Twitter. It lends itself to better social media engagement/ journalism, because that’s where the fans are going to engage with the teams anyway.

  3. I was in the same boat as you, refreshing my browser every few seconds to try to get the first info on all of the trades – I wish the Celtics had done something after how poorly they’ve been playing and how poorly the bench has been doing. Long gone are the days of hearing it first on Sportscenter. By the time it gets there, they are five or six moves behind.

  4. From a business standpoint, the NBA has hit a “home run” (did you catch that?)! Television ratings can rise or dip based on a variety of things, but the one thing people never skimp on is LIVE sports. So to have the NBA fueling the twittersphere to not only deliver a premium product on TV, but also increase fan engagement on social platforms is savvy…to say the least. Its a means to keep the NBA and all its excitement as front page news through vehicles like “Woj”, hashtags, and the players themselves.

    Its fascinating how 30 years ago, people would wait for radio, newspapers, or other published material to catch up on breaking news. Now, its just a tweet away. How’s that for evolving/adapting to the times.

  5. I think an interesting parallel here would be Adam Schefter, who is also an analyst at ESPN. Interestingly, Schefter has a whopping 7.12 million followers on Twitter and is more less the king of the NFL rumor mill. With free agency and the NFL Draft coming around the corner, I would not be surprised to witness a similar phenomenon occur with his profile in the coming few months.

    And I also find it somewhat predictable that the NBA has had more success in establishing a social media presence, as I think the demographics of this league’s fanbase is probably receptive to social media exposure than the NFL’s. With that said, I wonder if the NBA will become the gold standard for social media utilization among sports enterprises in the future.

  6. Including Ken Rosenthal for Major League Baseball, theses insiders throughout popular sports constantly provide fans with interesting updates via social media, particularly twitter. They have special accessibility to “behind the scenes” information, so many fans believe their tweets are trustworthy. More importantly, they have tendency not to express their own opinions about news they tell, so they are away from subjectivity, which give them more credibility.

    On the other hand, Chris Broussard, from your blog post example, or Analysts like Skip Bayless and (my man) Stephen A. Smith are more expressive and open to put their emotions in the news they deliver. As far as I see, Wojnarowski, Schefter, and Rosenthal focus on delivering news from convincing sources while Broussard, Skip and SAS are telling their opinions on those news. Regardless of the way they discuss sports, watching them talking about sports is a huge fun for sports fans.

  7. I sat on my couch watching the Eagles Super Bowl parade and my phone started blowing up. What Woj has done in the Twitter world is pretty amazing. He knows exactly what is happening at all times and is very quick to get it out there to his 2.2million followers and millions of other sports fans. Like what Mark said, there are a lot of comparisons that can be drawn from Woj and top NFL analyst Adam Shefter. Both excel at what they do and are the big dog analysts in their respective sports.
    I also agree with Professor Kane’s comment about how Twitter’s impact in the NBA has a become enhanced. I think this has to do with the fact that more of the NBA stars are on Twitter, and they are constantly posting and commenting. A large part of why the NBA’s twitter presence has become so large has to due with “Twitter Beef’s.” One of the most well-known NBA twitter users is Joel Embiid. He is always on twitter commenting on other NBA players’ posts, calling them out, and the fans love it.

  8. I really like this post. I like @jjaeh0ng‘s comment about Skip and Broussard. There seems to essentially be a monopoly over first movers, and sometimes it almost seems like Skip realizes that his best shot to create buzz on social media is to have absolutely ridiculous takes and lives by the creed that no publicity is bad publicity.

    You also brought up the “Return” for LeBron. I wish Twitter was bigger in 2010 when he made “The Decision”, because I would have loved to see how the internet treated that (My guess: Probably ruthlessly).

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