For the first 60 years of NBA history, social media wasn’t around to put direct fan pressure on athletes. Even internet message boards had just burst onto the scene in the 1990’s.
Now, thirty short years after message boards made their debut, NBA stars are now tasked with not only being elite on the hardwood, but elite at public relations as well.
That seems like an impossible task, and it can be. The 2010’s were littered with examples of prospects using social media as children and it coming back to bite them. In the NFL world, Josh Allen had racist/homophobic tweets from middle school come to light. The Bucks’ Donte DiVincenzo apologized after his 2011 tweets using the N-word resurfaced in 2018.
Examples like Allen and DiVincenzo shed light on the new reality for anyone with celebrity status. Mistakes, no matter how old they are, will be found and magnified in today’s cancel culture.
The current volatility of social media and traditional media in the 2020’s makes the way Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are carrying themselves even more impressive.
Tatum’s most famous old tweet? When he met LeBron James as a kid and asked for a follow back, because he was Larry Hughes’ nephew from St. Louis.
Cute old tweets aside, Tatum and Brown have been very understated in their approach to media in general, unless they don’t want to be.
Brown has been an outspoken leader for fellow NBA players in the pursuit of racial equality. This summer, Tatum took to Twitter to express his support for Olympian Simone Biles, who made the decision to step away from competition due to mental health concerns.
“Is it that hard to be supportive and empathetic to what others are going through,” Tatum tweeted Biles’ defense. “This is someone’s daughter and her health you’re referring to. Wonder if he has kids and how he would feel as a parent someone talking about his kids this way. Cause I’d be DAMNED. Simone is a hero!”
Both Tatum and Brown have displayed a profound level of maturity considering their ages (23 and 24 respectively) and the pressure on them. As a 22-year-old, Brown and Tatum inspire me to improve and continue my growth as a man, just as they have.
I can’t imagine the pressure the two of them feel, knowing any small move or throwaway quote could end up creating headlines. I get nervous when someone asks me where we should eat dinner, let alone sharing my opinion on complex social issues to millions.
Even further, the two of them have to speak up sometimes. When big social events happen, athletes are expected to make statements. They are expected to speak on certain topics and offer their support to communities. Every time Brown and Tatum have spoke up, they’ve spoken with care and purpose, which is hard to consistently do.
Celtics fans should be grateful the cornerstones of their team are mature and lead by example, rather than loud, boisterous, explosions of emotion. The two of them stay out of drama, make great points when they speak up on social issues and represent the organization with poise.
But, some fans and media personnel believe that same maturity and wisdom are what caused the Celtics to endure a disappointing 2020-2021 season. Throughout a lackluster team season, calls for more Kevin Garnett energy echoed through the chasm of social media. Those calls will hopefully go straight to voicemail.
In an era where NBA stars can see everything fans say, fans can directly send their opinions to athletes and sports TV runs 24/7, a quieter, stoic set of leaders is ideal. There’s no need for Tatum and Brown to be screaming up and down the court at their teammates. Despite what stars of yesterday did on-court, this is a new era with new context.
If, for example, Michael Jordan screamed at Steve Kerr on a random Tuesday in the 90’s, it wasn’t as heavily publicized. Now, it would take 10 minutes for the clip of a player screaming to hit Twitter, become a meme, and then be the lead topic on sports talk shows the next morning.
Furthermore, it’s ignorant to assume every NBA player needs a fiery, loud, screaming teammate to motivate them. Every person is motivated in their own way, and having an even temperament can be even more effective depending on who is being spoken to.
The Celtics two young stars aren’t going to create headlines with their fiery personalities on the court, but that’s okay. To claim their even, cool temperaments are anything but a positive asset to their careers is irresponsible, and diminishes the maturity and poise needed to thrive in the current NBA landscape.
The maturity, judgement and decision-making related sections of the human brain aren’t fully developed until 25, but Tatum and Brown have always been built different, so it’s no surprise they’ve surpassed their peers in yet another way.
Ideally, fans can learn to appreciate a change in temperament from their team’s previous stars. It’s time to quit comparing different forms of greatness, and learn to simply appreciate them both separately.