PHILADELPHIA – While most people were sleeping, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid shifted the venue for the fight that began on the floor in Philadelphia’s 117-95 victory over the Timberwolves. The next logical place to continue it? Social media.

 

It began with Embiid firing the first shot at Towns, bragging on Twitter and making light of Towns’ nickname: Embiid wrote he “was raised around lions and a cat pulled on me tonight…”

He tagged in his post Jimmy Butler, the former Wolves player and thorn in Towns’ side last season, and claimed that he occupied a significant space on Towns’ mind.

Towns’ responded, using typography meant to convey sarcasm to throw some of Embiid’s words not fit for print back in Embiid’s face, and accompanied them with pictures of Embiid crying following the 76ers’ loss in the playoffs and Towns seeming to have the upper hand in their Wednesday night skirmish.

Then it got particularly ugly. Embiid clapped back, using another term REALLY not fit for print and laying out for the public the whispered point of view some have had about Towns since his relationship with Butler went sour. Using more derogatory language, Embiid claimed Towns was soft and referenced “you know who,” presumably Butler.

“I ain’t gonna put your business out … I got the facts about you,” Embiid wrote in a comment. “Don’t get it twisted. I OWN YOU.”

As can happen in the NBA, fans, media and fellow players alike ate up the back and forth, judging who lobbed the strongest grenade. The league’s social media appeal is one of the reasons why the game is so popular and the envy of other leagues who want cash in on that internet capital.

But while it can be entertaining, there’s a downside to what happened in the wee hours of the morning that puts the league in an awkward position.

Last season, Commissioner Adam Silver said a lot of players are struggling with mental health issues brought on, in part, by the social media presence the league has. They open any social media app and they can see all the nasty things being said about them by random fans.

Some may just brush off the random comments as they should, but it can be harder for some to let it go. Vulgar insults can affect self-confidence and self-worth. What happened early Thursday morning, especially Embiid’s final comment, does nothing to combat this type of behavior.

In fact, it could encourage more toxicity. Why should random people stop trolling the players and spewing their vitriol all over the internet when the players themselves are doing it to each other for all the world to see?

This is an issue the league will need to face if it is serious about combatting mental health issues.

What happened between Towns and Embiid on social media may have produced laughs, GIFs and emojis that will spice up your social media feeds. But this trash talk has potential to be damaging.

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