Wednesday night saw the first fight of the 2019-20 NBA season. An entertaining scuffle broke out midway through the third quarter of the Timberwolves and 76ers game between Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. The altercation started after the two got tangled up going for a steal under the basket. Both players are 2x All-Stars and cornerstones of their respective franchises.
Neither player landed a serious blow during the bench clearing altercation. The referees, other players and coaches all stepped in to prevent this from becoming a brawl. Both players were ejected from the game. Embiid walked out to a standing ovation from the home crowd. The 76ers won the game, but that wasn’t what people were talking about afterward. Normally NBA fights are much to do about nothing. Punches are thrown, but usually don’t land. Then, players are ejected and later suspended. The obvious exception being Malice in the Palace. However, this altercation was different because it spilled onto social media after the game.
Both players traded shots throughout Wednesday night and by Thursday morning it was all people could talk about. Embiid started it by referring to Towns as a “cat” and went on to say that Towns mother was giving him “middle fingers.”
Towns responded by posting a picture of Embiid crying after losing in the playoffs last season adding the caption, “All bark & no bite.”
Embiid further escalated the social media feud by commenting on Towns earlier post saying, “You’ve been a pussy your whole life. That’s why you were treated like a bitch by you know who. I ain’t gonna put your business out by I got the facts about you. I OWN YOU.” The top secret “you know who” is Jimmy Butler. He was notorious for riding Towns when they played together in Minnesota. As if that wasn’t enough Embiid added an additional post where he calls Towns a “pussy.” This isn’t the first time the two have traded shots on social media. Two years ago Embiid posted a picture on Instagram and when Towns chided the images’s quality, Embiid chirped that the quality is “better than your defense.” There is certainly no love lost between these two.
If you believe that all press is good press, then this was a great night for the NBA. Two of the games best young players squared off on the court and off the court dominating headlines and sending news cycles spinning. On the other hand this could be seen by as yet another road bump for a league still recovering from an international incident. Adam Sliver suspended Towns and Embiid two games each. A bit light considering the social media feud and on-court altercation. No other player was fined or suspended. Neither player will appeal their suspensions. The suspension will cost Embiid $379,374 and Towns $376,345. A Hefty sum for anyone in the NBA.
The NBA & Social Media
The NBA and social media go hand in hand. NBA highlights make for great Twitter and Instagram content. Many players are active on social media and interact with their fans through various platforms. Teams promote their product and players anyway they can and even launch social media campaigns to get their players All-Star votes. Social media is often the best way to follow any breaking news or developments. Think of the rise of Adrian Wojnarowski and “Woj Bombs”, his popularity isn’t possible without twitter. Furthermore, the NBA has a young demographic who live on social media and consume content in less traditional ways than adults. With so many people following the league on social media it begs the question: What is the NBA’s social media policy?
The NBA’s social media policy for players is simply that they do not tweet 45 minutes prior to a game through the end of media availability after the game. Players are still subject to the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, so they are still responsible for their social media activity. Team social media accounts are regulated a bit more. Individual team accounts are not allowed to, “Disparage, belittle or embarrass an individual opponent or game official; Mimic or impersonate an opponent or game official in a negative manner; or Criticize officiating or the NBA officiating program” per a 2017 memo from Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum. This policy reflects a league that has embraced social media and encouraged its use. The League has largely been rewarded for its bet as the NBA has grown in popularity. This growth would not have been possible without social media. However, if incidents like the one above keep happening, then the NBA should consider implementing guidelines and issuing fines if necessary. Failure to do so may harm the League’s reputation and standing.