SALT LAKE CITY – The scene in the Timberwolves locker room before Tuesday’s matchup against Denver was similar to many games this season. Some players were working out or getting treatment for injuries. There were six or seven players sitting in front of their lockers — and each of them was quiet, staring at his phone, answering text messages, playing games or scrolling through social media.
This is something that isn’t unique to the Wolves locker room or the NBA for that matter. It’s a millennial condition — one NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has taken note of, even if he doesn’t like how it affects the league’s players.
“If you’re around a team in this day and age, there are always headphones on,” Silver said recently at the Sloan Conference in Boston, according to the Boston Globe. “[The players] are isolated, and they have their heads down.”
This has led to many “unhappy” players, Silver said, with social media a prime culprit in their misery.
The NBA has grown in popularity in recent years in part because of the social media chatter around the game. The NBA has 35.3 million followers on Instagram. The NFL, MLB and NHL had 22.4 million combined, as of Wednesday.
The NBA’s players have large followings of their own. Fans love dissecting player movement, speculating about relationships between players and making memes or GIFs — images or quick video clips — for comedic effect, sometimes at a player’s expense. There was plenty of this involving Jimmy Butler and his former Wolves teammates before he finally was traded in November.
But the popularity on social media comes with a cost, and Silver said it’s a human cost eating at the mental health of players.
Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said he goes on social media to watch funny videos, share memes with friends and get news. He said overall social media is good for the NBA — you just have to be aware of its pratfalls.
“People are going to say what they’re going to say,” Towns said. “That’s just the world we live in and how it is. You can’t put your value based on keyboard warriors. That’s not what your value is. You know your worth, and you don’t need anyone to tell you that.”
Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, a frequent talking point on these platforms, told Yahoo Sports that social media can have a negative impact on locker rooms and on players’ mental health.
“People are dealing with anxiety, depression and other disorders that affects their well-being,” Irving said. “Some people can’t handle all of this, and we need to be mindful of that.”
Recently, stars such as former Wolves forward Kevin Love and Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan have discussed their mental health challenges, hoping to raise awareness of its prevalence in the NBA.
Wolves rookie Josh Okogie sees negative comments on these platforms and said, “I just laugh.”
But he understands not everyone is able to do that.
“Social media is definitely good in terms of promoting and a way to find out information quickly about what’s going on around the NBA,” Okogie said. “But it’s bad because the criticizing that goes on, and I think a lot of people say stuff but don’t realize the affect they have on certain players.”
In the past, this wasn’t a topic of conversation around the league. But now it’s something players, teams and the league office are monitoring closely.
“It’s not just basketball with these guys,” Wolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “Guys have other things that go on in life so a lot of times you want to be able to understand them the best you can.”