It’s impossible to know what NBA players think or talk about behind close doors. But we do know who and what they talk about on Twitter. And when it comes to Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s what other players don’t tweet that stands out. In today’s overly friendly NBA, players appear to be less willing to shower Giannis with praise compared to players of his caliber.
Since January 1st, NBA players, both active and retired, have mentioned Giannis 188 times on Twitter. That’s half as many times than Damian Lillard has been mentioned (400 mentions) and also notably less than LeBron James (376), Stephen Curry (336), and other stars that didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Often, when a superstar is having a good game, other NBA players log on and tweet their admiration or disbelief. Whether it’s Damian Lillard going nuclear in the first round:
Or Kevin Durant carrying his depleted team through the playoffs:
You can bet that NBA players are watching and tweeting. They’re just like us!
But some have noticed that NBA players aren’t as tweet-happy when Giannis has a good game, leading some to wonder whether that’s intentional:
I looked into this by downloading more than 100,000 tweets from over 1,200 current and retired NBA players to see how often players have been mentioned by their peers on Twitter since January 1, 2021. If other players really are reluctant to acknowledge Giannis on Twitter, then the data should show him receiving fewer interactions from his peers compared to other players of similar stature.
To keep things simple, I only looked at tweets that mentioned top players in the NBA - those who received one or more All-NBA vote. That’s a total of 32 players and includes the majority of the biggest stars in the league and the players who matter most. To refresh your memory, the chart below show which players received All-NBA votes.
The first thing I did was look at the total number of times each All-NBA level player had been explicitly mentioned (@’d) on Twitter by other players since the start of the year. James led the way with 247 different mentions from current and retired players. Giannis received just 37— about the same as Luka Doncic (38) and barely more than his teammate Khris Middleton (30).
As far as I can tell, Nikola Jokic does not have a Twitter account and therefore received zero direct mentions from other players.
While this chart is interesting, it’s an incomplete picture. This is only looking at explicit mentions. There are plenty of instances of someone tweeting about another player without directly @ing them.
So to account for that, I also included some indirect mentions. For example, if a player’s tweet included the name “Giannis” in the text I counted that as a mention even if they didn’t include Giannis’ Twitter handle @Giannis_AN34 in the tweet. I did this for every All-NBA level player as best I could, but the permutations of each player’s name and nickname are endless. Ultimately, I used my best judgement for what constitutes an indirect mention, i.e. “KD” for Kevin Durant, “Dame” for Damian Lillard, “Steph” for Stephen Curry, etc.
Once I included indirect mentions, Giannis shot up the chart, but was still well below fellow superstars like Lillard, James, Curry, and other high-flyers in the chart below.
And because the Bucks are in the Finals, Giannis (as well as the other Bucks and Suns players on this chart) should be toward the top of the chart. At this point, he’s played in more high-profile games this season than almost anyone else. Meaning, there are more reasons to tweet about Giannis than there are to tweet about a player like Anthony Davis, who lost in the first round and was injured for a large chunk of the regular season.
When I looked at each player’s total mentions (both direct and indirect) over time, it showed that most of Giannis’ interactions have come in the last couple of weeks when there have been fewer players to watch and talk about.
In the chart above, the largest circle for each player — or the day when they received the most mentions from other players — often corresponds with an impressive individual performance. For Lillard, it’s when he dropped 55 points in the first round against the Nuggets. For Curry, it’s when he squeaked out a win in the three-point contest during All-Star Weekend. For Chris Paul, it’s when he scored 41 points to close out the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
Meanwhile, the day Giannis received the most mentions on Twitter from current and retired players was the day he hyperextended his knee in the Eastern Conference Finals. That day, several of his peers tweeted out the prayers up emoji. Outside of that, Giannis has rarely received more than a couple of mentions despite having some of the most impressive individual performances this postseason. All these “payers up” mentions go to show, Giannis’ peers know how to spell his name; they can find his handle; they just choose to hold the applause when he’s playing well.
To be fair, getting mentioned on Twitter by other players is probably a function of how often a player tweets and engages with other players themselves. That’s why Kawhi Leonard, who hasn’t tweeted since 2015, rarely gets mentioned either. Same goes for Jokic.
While Giannis does tweet more frequently than Leonard and Jokic, he doesn’t often mention other players in his tweets. That behavior is consistent with his comments from 2018 about why he doesn’t like to work out with other NBA players — it’s weird to be friendly with your rivals! The only players he’s engaged with on the site since the beginning of the year are his two brothers, Thanasis and Kostas, Eric Bledsoe, and LeBron James.
LeBron James @KingJames#TeamLeBron👑 does it again!! YESSIR!!! Congrats MVP @Giannis_An34 👏🏾🙏🏾
Of course, there are limitations to this kind of analysis. This is just counting the number of times a player is explicitly mentioned in a tweet. There are quite literally countless instances of a player tweeting about another player in a roundabout way without mentioning them. Trying to include those would be an exercise in futility.
Additionally, this type of analysis can’t distinguish between mentions that are praise, asides, or something more back-handed. A more sophisticated analysis that takes into account sentiment might be able to.
But overall I think this analysis paints a reasonable picture of the hierarchy of today’s online NBA world. It also gives some support to the idea that if the NBA is a high school cafeteria, then Giannis probably isn’t sitting at the cool kids table.
The un-chartable territory here is “the why”? Are NBA players reluctant to publicly praise Giannis because he’s not buddy-buddy with other players? Is it because he’s an international player and therefore didn’t grow up with these guys on the AAU circuit? Is it because they’re jealous that he’s a cutie 3.14? Or is it some other benign reason that can’t be answered with publicly available data? Until we can develop a truth serum and administer it to players around the league we’ll be hard pressed to know exactly why Giannis isn’t getting his snaps.
Whatever the reason is I doubt he cares.