According to a Twitter study earlier this year, the NBA was the most discussed sports league in 2018, LeBron James was the most talked about athlete and the Cleveland Cavaliers held the distinction of being the most Tweeted-about team. Expect only one of those things to change when the next set of figures rolls in.
As the new NBA season prepares to tip off, so too does America’s true sporting pastime.
You don’t really hear the word “pastime” much anymore, and even thesis-writers have mused frequently about why Americans have either abandoned hobbies or no longer take the same level of enjoyment from them.
In truth, people just absorb their entertainment in different ways. The NBA’s young audience geeks out, shares and gives hot takes on their favorite sport, rather than ruminates over fantasy line-ups or jots down particulars on a baseball scorecard.
But as much as football fans and a few delusional baseball devotees will bristle at this, basketball does the best job of all major sports in tapping into the country’s cultural psyche and in keeping pace with the way it is moving.
The NFL diehards will point first, second and third to television viewing figures, for so long the barometer of all things related to popularity. Yes, far more people watch broadcasts of NFL games than NBA games, even the Finals. But this is 2018, a time when television ownership rates and cable subscriptions are tanking, and when people increasingly spend far more of their lives buried in their phones than plunked down in front of the idiot box.
There’s no great rush of humanity wishing to hand back their smart phones, suggesting that social media, for all its ills, might be a clearer indicator of where things are at, and where they are heading.
When it comes to engagement and interaction, the bewildering domain of online life is dominated by the NBA, with the athletes among the most prolific and creative content providers.
The NBA has embraced everything that America’s youth likes and plays just as big a role in telling it what it should like next. Steph Curry’s latest sneakers, even those horrible plain white ones, will generate a larger online impression than even Tom Brady’s latest spectacular performance.
Football has some serious narratives around it, perhaps too serious to fit within the neat parameters of easily-digestible entertainment. Brain injury is a compelling and disturbing issue, and is hard to reconcile when those who provide the enjoyment of the activity have their physical health at stake.
Football isn’t going away, but if you think it is the only sport worthy of pastime status, you’re almost certainly not of the Snapchat generation.
It used to be that baseball was the national pastime. It reflected the country’s character, when time was plentiful and building gradually toward a long-term goal was seen as a cherished and worthy character trait. Nice, huh? Remember that? Me neither, but my grandfather does.
Football absorbed a mindset that celebrated struggle and aggression, American dominance. The biggest, strongest and most fearless wins, and doesn’t think about apologizing for doing so.
Young America thinks a little differently now. The millennial generation (or Generation Z that apparently has followed) isn’t a passing fad, it is tens of millions of people who are growing in number and continuing to come of age. They are the future consumers, watchers, voters, leaders and decision makers of the country.
The NBA has them, in greater number, than any other sport. It has them in a way far more complicated than simply spending hours in front of the screen with a bag of popcorn. It has them the moment they wake up, it has them on the bus, at the store, at recess. It has them in the palm of their hand, and in the palm of its hand.
And thus while it might not feel like it to everyone and while it might not look like what you’re used to, as the new season begins, the NBA has the nation’s sporting soul.
Follow Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno
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