Cheers or Jeers: NBA Fan Behavior on Social Media
by Jakob Olsson
As the NBA regular season reaches its climax, you may be forgiven for cursing your team if they’ve had a less-than-stellar season that’s left you with more losses than wins and nothing to cheer for throughout the forthcoming playoffs.
With the postseason just around the corner, we took a deep look at social media and analyzed which fan bases take to Instagram to let their teams know what they really think. Our research checked the percentage of swear words and foul-mouth reviews on each team account.
Rooting for your team can be an emotional rollercoaster, with every franchise there are the ups and downs. So, we also checked out who were complementary of their team, and which fans dished out the most hate over the last 12 months. As it turns out, winning doesn’t necessarily bring joy to everyone.
Being a fan comes with a price, especially during an 82, or even a 72-game season. Out of all 30 NBA franchises, Los Angeles Lakers fans swear the most at their team. Despite LeBron James breaking records left, right, and center, Lakers fans can’t help putting hate on the 17-time NBA champions.
According to our research, 31% of people rooting for the Lakers swear at their team on social media. That’s nearly four times as much as Detroit Pistons fans (8.1%). The Detroit faithful haven’t tasted a postseason win for 15 years, and haven’t even made the playoffs in any of the last four seasons, including this one, so you’d be inclined to think they’d be firing four-letter expletives at their franchise, but they deliver the fewest obscenities out of any fan base.
Chicago Bulls fans, now a couple of generations removed from the iconic Michael Jordan era, are second in the foul-mouth rankings at 28.9%. Miami Heat fans aren’t far behind the Bulls in third, with 28.5% throwing hate on their team. It’s been a rough season for the 2020 Conference champions from south Florida, who are just above .500 after taking the Celtics to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Despite four NBA titles in eight years, including last year, it seems even Steph Curry can’t satisfy all Golden State Warriors fans. They put hate on their team the fourth-most, with 26.7% swearing on Instagram. The Warriors’ fan base also offers the least love on the platform, just 22.9% being complementary to Steve Kerr’s men.
Following the acquisition of Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns fans have had a lot to be thankful for as of late. They’re dishing out the most love to their team, with 30.9% sharing compliments to KD, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and co.
Philly fans are notorious for wearing their hearts on their sleeves and telling their teams exactly what they really think. But it appears as though there’s a lot of love for the 76ers in the City of Brotherly Love. Would the results have been different if Ben Simmons was still there? Sixers fans seem quite content with the work Doc Rivers is doing. They’re sending out the second-most compliments at 30%.
Interestingly, Philly fans rank among the bottom third of NBA fan bases throwing expletives at their team. Only 10% swear at the Sixers on Insta. Milwaukee Bucks fans come third with 29.8% handing out compliments to their team. With Giannis Antetokounnmpo on the court, who can blame them?
The crowd in Indiana appears to be content with their squad. Pacers fans look like the nicest overall fan base, with just 8.5% swearing at their team (third-last), while ranking fourth in complements at 29.7%.
Inside the bottom four of complementary fan bases, second to the bottom (just above the Warriors) are Lakers fans at 23.8%, with the Heat third to last (25.2%) and the Toronto Raptors fourth from the bottom (25.3%).
Where is the Love?
So, which fan bases are happiest? We looked at Facebook and compared the ratio of like/love reactions on team posts to the angry reactions across the course of the last year.
It will come as no surprise that last season’s NBA champions generated the happiest fans. The return of Klay Thompson alongside Steph Curry saw the Splash Bros reunited at Chase Center, and the duo have been delighting Warriors fans ever since, with the Warriors crowd clicking more like/love reactions (12.1) to each angry reaction on Facebook.
Despite just one postseason win in the last four seasons, and no playoff berth last year, Washington Wizards fans are the second-happiest in the league (11.2). Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Kuzma are clearly bringing joy to fans in their push for a Play-In place this time around.
There’s nothing grisly about Memphis fans. They rank third in the love shown for their team (9.2). The Grizzlies had a solid run in the playoffs last year and look set for a potential deep run this postseason.
Success on the court doesn’t necessarily mean happy fans cheering from the stands or in front of their TVs. Dallas Mavericks fans have the delight of Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic, and a championship-caliber roster that now features Kyrie Irving. However, Mavs fans appear to be the maddest. They rank dead last, showing more hate than love for their franchise on Facebook with 0.8 like/love reactions for each angry response.
Perhaps it’s the long, cold winters, but the crowd in Minnesota shows the most hate to the Timberwolves after the Mavs in our rankings (1.6).
Even though their franchise continues to fly high atop the Eastern Conference, Bucks fans showed the third-most hate, level with Philly fans at 1.7, to Giannis and co. Maybe all that Wisconsin beer is getting to their heads?
The Sixers look dialed in for a playoff berth this year, following a run to the Conference Semifinals last season, but it isn’t enough for the crowd in Pennsylvania. Could James Harden help satisfy their demands this time around?
Sacramento Kings fans were neither happy nor angry sitting at 14th with a ratio of 4.6 like/love reactions to angry. Let’s see whether their first winning season in 16 years will cheer them up more as Domantas Sabonis leads them into the playoffs.
There’s nothing like being a sports fan, with so much time and energy invested in our teams. Access to players has never been so good. So which are you? Quick to share the love or the hate on your phone?
To find out which NBA fan bases are the most foul-mouthed and which are the most complimentary, we analyzed every comment left on each team’s official Instagram account from March 18, 2022 until March 18, 2023. Our analysis showed which percentage of comments contain one or more swear words, chosen from a list of 20 of the most common. We then performed the same analysis for common complimentary words. Finally, we compared the total number of Facebook post like and love reactions to the total number of angry reactions for each team’s posts for the time period of March 18, 2022 until March 18, 2023.
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