Stephen Curry has a rule with Twitter. Before he sends a tweet, he’ll re-read it at least once.
“If I hesitate for a half of a second, then most likely I won’t tweet it,” Curry told the Bay Area News Group.
Curry has written many drafts that have never seen daylight. Some were responses to fans, others were his thoughts on what’s going on in the world. Because of his rule, Curry has managed to mostly remain above the fray of social media drama.
But many of his teammates have not been so lucky.
With the relatively recent boom of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, modern athletes are living in a different world, one that’s both dangerous and enlightening, inclusive and damaging.
Curry, a two-time NBA champion and a two-time Most Valuable Player, has 12 million followers on Twitter. He usually checks his mentions twice a day, never knowing what he’s going to find.
“You’ve got derogatory stuff,” Curry said. “You’ve got people attacking your family. You’ve got people sending pictures of them and their families wearing your jersey. You have people on there who will send 40 messages in a row to try to get me to respond to them. I get wedding invites, prom invites, all of that stuff. And this last year, any type of political debate that comes up surrounding (President Donald) Trump and athletes, somehow I get tagged.”
Curry said social media is a great tool, but in order to keep his sanity, he makes a point of not getting too emotionally charged by anything he reads about himself. It’s a tall task, but in this day and age, NBA players have to be acutely aware of everything they say or write because it lives on the internet forever.
It’s become such hot-button issue that the Warriors hired Kevin Sullivan, a communications strategist, to speak to the team five of the last six seasons about how to manage their social media accounts. Sullivan was the director of public relations for the Dallas Mavericks for 18 years and also worked at the White House as the director of communications under former President George W. Bush.
“One of the things I often tell the players, especially the young guys, is you’re coming into this at the most difficult time in the life of a pro-athlete, without question,” Sullivan said. “Everything is scrutinized like never before, and they have so many more opportunities for missteps. These guys really have to focus on how to manage it the right way because it can hurt their personal brand and the team. The stakes are high.”
Kevin Durant learned that lesson the hard way after responding in September to a fan who tweeted, “give me one legitimate reason for leaving okc other than getting a championship.”
It appeared as though Durant tried to use a fake Twitter account to defend himself, writing in the third person, “he didn’t like the organization or playing for Billy Donovan” and “Kd can’t win a championship with those cats”
Durant deleted those tweets. But it was too late. Somebody took screenshots of them and they went viral. At a technology conference in San Francisco later that month, Durant apologized and said his tweets were “childish” and “idiotic.”
Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said players have to be very careful with everything they do on social media.
“You just have to understand it can come back and haunt you quickly, depending on what you write,” Kerr said. “I think everybody is learning that as we go, as social media becomes more and more prominent. People are realizing all of the time now that you can get yourself into trouble. But it’s so hard to keep from that impulse, especially if you’re angry about something. But what it fosters is generally really unhealthy, the anger and the resentment, the divide.”
Durant isn’t the only Warrior player to get into some trouble over social media. Before the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Draymond Green posted a photo of his genitalia to his public Snapchat My Story, before quickly deleting it.
Green initially tweeted that he had been hacked, but eventually came clean that he had meant to send that photo to someone privately and accidentally pressed the wrong button.
Sullivan said that if a player messes up, his reputation isn’t necessarily tarnished. He advises guys to own up to their mistakes, pointing out that Americans love to forgive their heroes.
“There’s an old Washington saying: Tell it first, tell it all, and tell it yourself,” Sullivan said. “…You got to apologize very quickly, and the apology includes, taking responsibility, expressing regret, what am I going to differently in the future. It cant be, ‘If I offended anyone.’ We love second chances in this country, and nowhere more than sports. Most things you can recover from with an effective and quick apology.”
Nick Young also got into some hot water over social media, though it wasn’t because of anything he wrote. Young was secretly recorded in a video by his former Lakers teammate, D’Angelo Russell, talking about cheating on his then-fiancee Iggy Azalea. The video was released to celebrity gossip site Fameolous, and shared like wildfire over social media. Azalea eventually broke off the engagement.
“It was something I went through,” Young said. “It was tough. I got through it, though.”
There’s an even darker side to social media, one that was highlighted during the Warriors’ Western Conference Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs last season.
In game 1, Zaza Pachulia made a now-illegal closeout play against Kawhi Leonard, and the Spurs’ superstar landed on Pachulia’s foot and re-sprained his left ankle.
Some thought Pachulia did it purposely. Many were outraged. Pachulia and his family received death threats over their social media accounts, leading security guards to be sent to his children’s schools.
“I just felt bad for my family,” Pachulia said. “At the end of the day, we’re basketball players. We’re trying to play, to entertain, to do something special on the court. But off the court, we’re just regular human beings. We have families, we have lives, we have kids.”
Pachulia said at the beginning of last season, his fingers were “itching” to read what people were saying about him. It was the first time he was playing for a championship-caliber team, and he was fascinated by all of the interaction. But that quickly changed with all of the hyper-critical and negative things he read on a daily basis.
“The more attention you pay them, it makes them more successful,” Pachulia said. “If you don’t pay attention to them, then who cares. Nobody even knows them. It’s about how you approach the things. You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in the guys around you who have your back. I know what happened. My teammates know what happened. We know the reality. So you just move on.”
Kerr said things are much tougher for players nowadays then they used to be. He distinctly remembers trying out for the Chicago Bulls in 1993, hoping to make the team on a non-guaranteed deal, when he accidentally came across something that shook his whole perspective.
“I pick up the sports page, Chicago Tribune, unsuspecting thinking I’m not going to find anything about myself,” Kerr said. “There was an article about the last roster spot, and the guy predicted I’d get cut. I read the article, I go home, I’m fuming. I’m like, ‘This is bullshit. I’m playing well. I’m going to make the team.’ And then I’m like, ‘Oh my God. Am I not going to make the team?’ So all of this unnecessary clutter is in my head.”
It’s a moment that Kerr often thinks about when he looks around the locker room and sees the Golden State Warriors’ players checking their social media accounts. Players no longer have to buy a newspaper to read what someone is saying about them — it’s everywhere, all around them, at all moments.
“Imagine that at your fingertips all day, every day,” Kerr said. “We’re all human beings, so we all have a desire to know what people are saying about us, and we all have a desire to be liked. So imagine that times 100 on your phone, access to it nonstop all day, every day, including at halftime of games.”
Even though Kerr thinks that responding to haters is a waste of players’ time, and checking Twitter mentions during games is akin to crossing a psychological minefield, Kerr leaves it up to each player to decide how and when to use their social media accounts.
“I think it would be counterproductive to be the old-school coach who has a rule that you’re not allowed on your phones before or after games, and if somebody is, grab the phone and throw it against the wall,” Kerr said. “The players would just laugh. I think it’s important to be with the times and understand that it’s a different generation. People grow up a different way. I try to just use subtle humor with our guys. Instead of reprimanding them for it, I try to make fun of the whole process, the whole concept of social media, even caring what anybody says. So we joke about it more than anything.”
When Sullivan talks to teams about how to manage their social media accounts, he often quotes something that Curry said after he won his first MVP award in 2015 about being “the best version of yourself.” He tells players to imagine they’re saying whatever they’re about to tweet to a room filled with reporters who have cameras and notepads.
Social media can be a very powerful tool. Players can connect with their audiences in unprecedented ways, bring attention to their causes and show sides of themselves and their character that were previously reserved for family and friends.
Curry very much recognizes that power and privilege and has used it for many philanthropic causes, including his Nothing But Nets shoe giveaway in which he donated an insecticide-treated bed net to protect families from malaria for every $120 shoe sold.
“It makes the world so much smaller,” Curry said. “You can raise awareness on anything that’s important to you and drive attention to it. I’ve done shoe launches through it, I did my Nothing But Nets shoe giveaway on Twitter and Instagram. The feedback I got from that is crazy. I don’t know any other way you really can execute something that I did like that. That’s the power of social media.”
David West actually wishes Twitter was around sooner. He often uses it to mentor younger kids. Through Twitter, he’s able to maintain relationships with them and follow their careers
“When I was in college, it was all regional stuff,” West said. “Like USA Today would actually have to come to watch you play to get the story to go around. Now a guy has a big game, one clip, and the whole world knows about him. It’s an opportunity for guys to get exposure, and for people to see players and athletes and learn about them without having to literally be there. I think it’s advantageous for some young guys, particularly guys who are in smaller markets, at a small university somewhere or at a small high school somewhere. They can be seen and be heard.”
Earlier in his career, West used to use Twitter in other ways, such as to go back and forth with fans and defend his teammates — until he had a realization.
“You don’t know who you’re talking to,” West said. “They know who I am. You don’t know who is on the other side. So I stayed away from it. I stuck up for teammates a couple of times. And then I was like, you know what, you don’t know if this is a computer algorithm or some jackass just sitting around trying to get you riled up.”
Curry acknowledges that he used to check Twitter during halftime. But during the 2015 Finals, he decided to temporarily delete all of the social media apps on his phone.
“When everybody is watching your game every night, if you let one ounce of negativity or one terrible comment creep in, especially right before a game or at halftime or something, it’s probably not the best bet,” Curry said.
Curry, however, couldn’t quite avoid the noise during the 2016 Finals when his new shoes, the Curry 2 Low “Chef” sneakers, were released in June and the Twitterverse exploded roasting him. One person tweeted said he was really “targeting that emergency room nurse demographic.” There was even a GIF of an old woman falling while wearing those shoes.
“It felt like the world was caving in,” Curry said. “Then a week later, nobody is really talking about it. It’s kind of a hard process.”
All things considered, Curry said he tries to maintain a good perspective around social media and he uses it to his benefit when he can.
This past summer, Durant dissed the shoe company that sponsors Curry while recording a podcast, saying, “Nobody wants to play in Under Armours.” Immediately rumors swirled that there would be tension in the locker room and a potential rift among the reigning NBA champions.
Curry diffused everything with one picture.
He posted a photo of him and Durant goofing off, with Durant grinning and pointing to his Nike shoes. Curry wrote: “Why so serious?!? #sneakerwars.”
With a little humor and his own voice, the story quickly became a non-story.
Curry, who has become something of a skilled multimedia diplomat, said being a superstar in the age of social media boils down to one very simple formula.
“Appreciate for the most part that people care what goes on in your life,” he said. “But know that it won’t influence you either way.”