It's 8:03 p.m. and my plane from New York City had just touched down in San Francisco. To my dismay, the 4:55 p.m. flight was delayed for nearly an hour, which was especially aggravating because of the 6 p.m. tip-off of the Golden State Warriors versus the Oklahoma City Thunder for a spot in the NBA Finals. With their backs against the wall, the Warriors had fought back from a 3-1 deficit in the series and I did not want to miss a minute of Game 7.
At last, granted permission to turn on my cell phone, I opened ESPN to check on the score of the game. Holding my breath, I was relieved to see that my team had a slight lead, which was extended to 10 following a Steph Curry three-pointer with 26.8 seconds left. Cheers roared from the back of the plane. As I looked to my right, my neighbor in seat 17C was equally engrossed in his own iPhone ESPN application, avidly following Golden State's final moments en route to the finals.
I couldn't help but smile at the fact that like me, my neighbor's first instinct upon landing was to check the score of the game. I guess that "I just landed" text to Mom could wait, right?
With 45 percent of the NBA's audience under the age of 35 according to The Atlantic, millennials are at the core of basketball's fan base. So what makes this sport so attractive to young people?
Firstly, basketball is a relatively new addition to the sports landscape. While the MLB was created in 1869, basketball didn't earn a significant presence in the public eye until the NBA was officially formed in 1949. Now with 32 franchises, the NBA has gained global traction, extending its reach to 215 countries. The sport is also broadcast in over 47 languages, attracting one of the most diverse audiences in sports. A love for basketball becomes instilled at a young age as children play with dreams of one day entering the NBA Draft and reaching the professional level. The NBA Draft Lottery therefore becomes a crucial and fascinating element of the sport, in which a team's destiny can be determined by the draw of a ping-pong ball. For millennials, this event adds to the hype, as fans can only hope that their team will secure the number one pick.
With the advent of Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, and Twitter in 2006, these platforms carried the sport into the 21st century allowing fans to access basketball from the click of a button. The NBA was quick to recognize the power of these platforms, being one of the first professional sports organizations to run their own YouTube channel. In 2016, their social following surpasses 30 million on Facebook, 15 million on Instagram and 21 million on Twitter. In comparison, the NFL has just 13 million likes on Facebook and 6 million on Instagram. So what is it about basketball that makes people want to like, comment and share?
Basketball is up close and personal. While football teams feature a roster of 53 with 11 players on the field, basketball teams present just five players on the court at a time with a 12-man active roster. Also, basketball players are not shielded by helmets or hats, allowing fans to notice the little details such as Steph Curry's piercing green eyes or the face that LeBron James makes when he's gearing for a lay-up.
From the ever-circulating GIF of crying Michael Jordan to the StephMoji application for iPhones (an entire keyboard of Steph Curry emojis), social media has allowed basketball to take on an entirely new dimension, which is key for millennials because it fosters engagement and allows fans to connect with their favorite teams and players in a captivating and personable way.
The high-scoring and fast paced nature of the sport also renders it the perfect source of content for social media. While nine innings of a baseball game take place over the course of four hours, basketball is quick, explosive and action packed, in 48 minutes of slam-dunks, steals and swishes. The amount of time it takes for Steph Curry to drive to the basket, is probably the same amount of time it would take you to view a friend's Snapchat story.
With our generation's three-second attention span, it's imperative to provide rich and engaging content, or else we will just scroll to the next post that catches our eye. But in basketball as we saw with Steph Curry's heart-wrenching buzzer-beaters this season, three seconds can make all the difference.