Analyzing the NBA Through Twitter Follows

By Benedict Brady

Following an incredibly exciting week for NBA twitter, we have decided to take a look at how NBA players interact with each other on twitter’s platform. While NBA players have relationships with each other on the court, their personal relationships are often the source of speculation and intrigue. However, NBA players reveal bits about their friendships through following each other on twitter. Because of this, we decided to analyze follows of relatively active NBA players to get a sense of how their networks are constructed.

Through scraping Basketball Reference (and a bit of manual updating) we were able to get the twitter handle for every NBA player that Basketball Reference thinks is on twitter. From there, we removed any player that played less than 15 minutes per game this season. This is because we only want active NBA players, and the twitter API has certain request limits that encourage us to narrow our pool of players down for sake of time. This resulted in 226 relatively active players with twitter handles. Finally, we used the twitter API to request the accounts that all 226 of these players followed, allowing us to check which NBA players follow each other. Note: This was performed on Friday, May 25.

The League

The first thing we were interested in was which NBA players had the most followers from around the association.


We see this list dominated by the most influential players in the league. A lot of these players have large shoe contracts and are well known to casual fans. The biggest standout name here is Jamal Crawford, who is probably well connected through media appearances and having played for seven different teams.

Next, we took a look at the players who followed the highest number of other players.


This list is much less star studded, the stars do not follow as many players as are following them.

From here, we were interested in looking at which players have large disparities between their followers and number they are following, in either direction. First, we can look at the players who are being followed far more than they follow.

This list contains both the stars and a selection of players who follow almost no one back. No one exemplifies this better than Manu Ginobili, who has 19 followers around the association and only follows Patty Mills back.

Next, we can look at the players who perhaps over-follow.

None of these players are very well known to the casual fan, perhaps leading to them having far fewer followers than they are following.

G0lden State Warriors

From here, we decided to take a look at specific NBA teams. The Golden State Warriors have five players who play 15 or more minutes and are on twitter. In the following graphic, the x axis shows the player who is doing the following, and the y axis is the player who is being followed. In the gray squares the follow occurs, and in the red squares the follow does not occur (the diagonal is all red for obvious reasons).


What we see here is that all of the top five Warriors follow each other, except Kevin Durant does not follow Klay Thompson.

Cleveland Cavaliers


The first thing to notice is that the Cavaliers have many more players on twitter than the Warriors. Unsurprisingly, every Cavalier follows LeBron James on twitter, but LeBron only follows Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith (although this may have changed after Friday).

Houston Rockets


The Rockets have a few interesting trends. Everyone on the team follows Chris Paul, and no one interacts with Joe Johnson except for Chris Paul. Also, Eric Gordon is very generous with the follows but he does not get followed back by the two stars.

While this analysis seems trivial, twitter behavior may have broader implications. For example, it is feasible that players in LeBron’s good graces may have a higher chance of sticking around in the off season, and internal player relations may drive court behavior to some degree.

The next step here would be to look at actual interactions on on twitter, such as likes and favorites, in order to gain a fuller picture of league dynamics.

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