NBA Forward Nick Collison Talks Social Media and Sports

On the court, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison is a key cog in the rotation for the team with the NBA’s best record, leading the team in field goal percentage while playing 20 minutes per game.

Off the court, Collison is a savvy social media practitioner, having amassed more than 50,000 Twitter followers on@nickcollison4 since joining the platform in 2009 and blogging regularly this season for GQ Magazine.

I caught up with Collison recently to get a player’s perspective on the impact social media is having on sports. Here’s what the former first-team NCAA All-American for the Kansas Jayhawks and first-round NBA draft pick had to say:

From a player’s perspective, what are the major pros and cons of social media?

“The pros are all the ways players and teams can have fun interacting directly with fans, plus the ability to control your message and talk directly to fans in your own voice. The cons are that you might say something that offends people and it can result in negative press, become a distraction for the team or even lead to fines or suspensions.”

How do you think social media has changed sports?

“I think it’s changed sports in two major ways – first, how news is reported and second, how players can interact with fans.

With social media, stories blow up quicker now and live longer than ever before. Like with a great story such as Jeremy Lin playing well in New York, it’s a way bigger deal than it would’ve been in the past because so many people have a platform to talk about it on Twitter, share highlights on YouTube and Facebook and write blog posts about it. And now traditional media reporters have a way to write and monitor news 24-7, so things like rumors gain more steam and are treated with more legitimacy than in the past.

Reporters now are quick to share everything they hear in real-time because they don’t want to be beaten to the punch. I’ve even learned significant news about my own team through Twitter, like teammates signing new deals or injury updates. If there’s a trade or free agent signing, I always learn about it on Twitter first.

The other major way it’s changed sports is the direct fan interaction. Look at what Kevin (Durant) did during the Lockout. I thought it was awesome. He really just wanted to go play flag football and asked for advice on where to play and he ends up playing in an intramural game at Oklahoma State with a bunch of students. It lets people see the players in a more realistic way and how they really are which is pretty much just like everyone else in most cases. Social media allows players to get their real personality across.”

What’s your strategy with regards to what you write on Twitter and on your blog?

“I really try to think about what people would like to see. I don’t think people are interested in every little thing, and I think people get annoyed when you put too much stuff in their feeds, so I put a lot of thought into it before I tweet or retweet or write a new blog post. My thinking is it needs to be funny or important and needs to make sense coming from me. If it’s something I think people will really like or is really relevant, then I’ll put it out there.”

What kind of education/training do players get on social media from the team or league or agents or all of the above?

“The league requires every team to have a Business of Basketball meeting at the beginning of each season, and now that meeting includes tips about how to use social media. Plus the team has 3-4 media training sessions per season with the PR staff and a consultant, and they include social media in those training sessions now. The league and the team are all about damage control. They want to make sure we know everything we put out there is seen by everyone and it’s the same as saying something in the media.

I don’t have any training from my agent, but I know some guys do. Some guys have a strategy and a plan to market themselves and use social media as part of that. Some players are really good about using it to help promote their charities or companies they’re involved with or sponsors to help them build their image.”

Twitter was a widely-used platform for communication during the NBA Lockout. What was your take on how the league, players, media, the Players’ Association and fans were using it and do you think it was effective for any of those groups?

“I learned almost everything significant that happened during the Lockout through Twitter. Between following other players, the Players’ Association, the league and especially all the media covering it, that’s where I kept up with everything going on. I don’t think it affected what deal was ultimately done, but it was a good way to communicate around the process.

I do think as players we could’ve done a much better job with it and been more organized to present consistent messages. The owners had the advantage of speaking through one person at all times – David Stern. They did a much better job of clearly putting out their message through all their channels, platforms and media partners. So many players have huge followings on social media to reach millions of people, but we weren’t organized or consistent in our approach.”

You had a unique experience with Twitter shortly after you joined, seeing a couple harmless tweets about summer weather in Seattle turn into a Daily Oklahoman column and then a strange radio rant. Did that experience affect your perspective on social media use?

“I think so. That was a ridiculous situation that was taken the wrong way out of context, but it’s just another reminder that you have to look at anything you’re going to put out there in terms of how people will perceive it and make sure you’re prepared to deal with any sort of backlash. It showed me you have to look at everything from every angle and how people could possibly take something you say and then decide if you still want to put it out there or not. It also showed the impact social media has on the news cycle, as multiple stories were generated off those simple harmless tweets. First the story in the paper, then the radio show, then the blogs written about the radio show. It’s totally changed the media industry, and it’s made the world a lot smaller place.”

How did you get involved with blogging for GQ this season and what’s the experience been like so far?

“Lang Whitaker from SLAM Magazine asked me to do it before the season started. He does a lot of stuff for GQ for their sports coverage and they had Kevin Love blog for them last season and needed someone to do it this year. I thought it would be fun. I’ve had a couple things I always thought people would like to know about. Some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t always get to hear about.

It’s definitely hard, though, to come up with new topics and ideas and it’s also tough to try to keep them short and be the appropriate length for a blog. Obviously I don’t have any real writing experience other than college doing my schoolwork but it’s a lot of fun, and it gives me something to do. I’ve been getting a lot of positive reaction to it on Twitter and even in person at events people are coming up and saying they’ve been reading it and they like it so far.”

Who in the sports world do you enjoy following through social media?

“In terms of players, of course I follow all my teammates. Our team as a whole is pretty active on Twitter. I also think Steve Nash and Blake Griffin are pretty good. They’re pretty funny but don’t put too much out there. One former player I love following is Rex Chapman. He’s hilarious. Besides players, I also follow a lot of the media and bloggers that cover the league – J.E. Skeets, Ken Berger, David Aldridge, Tom Ziller, Chris Mannix, Chris Broussard, Marc Stein, Ric Bucher and Bill Simmons. Between that group you’ll always get all the latest news either straight from them or they’ll share it from someone else.”

A lot of college teams are struggling to police student-athlete activity on social media channels. As someone who is acutely aware of the scrutiny that comes with being a star player for a major college program, what are your thoughts on handling social media use by college players?

“College is different from the pros for a couple reasons. First, as a college kid there’s not a lot you can do if your coach says you can’t be on Twitter. The environment in college is a lot more controlled. Second, most college kids just don’t have the experience or the perspective yet to understand how it can hurt them if they don’t use it properly.

I know as an 18 or 19 year-old, I probably would’ve said things on social media I would regret and have to deal with the consequences. At that age, your judgment just isn’t as good and you don’t realize everything you say is under a microscope and can be taken the wrong way. So I get what the schools are doing. They’re just trying to avoid dealing with any negativity because they have the control to do so.

But in theory I can also see where people say the kids have a right to say what they want and have the freedom to do that, so I see that side of it too. It’s obviously a complicated issue.”

What do you see in the future in terms of social media and sports?

“I see two major trends continuing. First, how social media is affecting journalism and how the teams are being covered will just become a bigger issue. There’s such a demand to make a splash and get news out first that it can have a negative effect on the writers, the players and the teams. The urgency and the speed of information and how things are reported will continue to have a big effect on sports. Second, I think guys will use it more and more as a platform to control their message and try to build their images through direct interaction with fans.”

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