Marcus Derrickson was preparing for a stint with the Golden State Warriors at NBA Summer League when his friends urged him to show off his gains in the weight room. Derrickson, a 22-year-old forward who played at Georgetown, was — and remains — a social media neophyte. At the time, he had posted all of five photos on Instagram.
“I actually like to live my life,” Derrickson said, “and not do it through social media.”
But his friends wanted him to flex his muscles for the world to see. They told him he should be proud of his hard work. And then they made their closing argument.
“They were like, ‘You might as well do what LeBron does,’” he recalled.
Derrickson followed through by logging onto Instagram and sharing a 5-second clip of himself doing chest flyes with weighted cables. He added a caption for good measure: “Focused.”
LeBron James has used social media to promote his television projects, congratulate former teammates on their contracts and pine for pizza parties. He has used social media to announce that he is going dark on social media, at least for the playoffs. He has used social media to celebrate his wedding anniversary and share a clip of himself jumping off a cliff.
But James, who recently decided to take his social media talents to the Los Angeles Lakers, has also used platforms like Twitter and Instagram to give his tens of millions of followers peeks behind the curtain — with glimpses of his offseason workouts. At various junctures of his career, James has posted snippets of himself running full-court sprints, balancing on inflatable balls and rapping to himself in a weight room.
“The one where he was bald?” Damyean Dotson, the New York Knicks’ second-year guard, asked recently. “That one was funny, man. Good song, too.”
James’ influence on the rest of the NBA is impossible to overstate — and it extends all the way to his penchant for grainy, self-styled videos and photos of himself working really hard, almost always without his shirt on, in the hot summer months.
“Everybody watches his clips,” Derrickson said. “He’s the best in the world.”
The trend of posting these videos did not necessarily start with James — a representative for James said he was unavailable for comment, and the forensics of the practice are cloudy at best — but he certainly helped popularize it.
“The NBA is full of copycats,” said Justin Zormelo, a trainer who has worked with dozens of high-profile clients like Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant. “So when LeBron posts something, you can bet that 99 percent of the league is going to do it, too — the young kids, especially.”
This is a quiet time of year for the NBA, but you would never know it from the flurry of online activity by some of the league’s stars. Joel Embiid is dribbling in an empty gym. Kristaps Porzingis is at a Latvian playground working with a kettlebell. Damian Lillard is showing off his six pack. John Wall is sweating all over a rowing machine.
And none of these gentlemen are wearing shirts. Dotson, for example, managed to cram five topless dudes into one of his Instagram posts this summer, after an outdoor track session. The LeBron Effect is real.
“Some people are probably like, ‘If you have to post your video, you’re not really working,’” Dwayne Bacon, a shooting guard with the Charlotte Hornets, said in a recent interview. “But people just like showing that they’re working, and I don’t feel like it’s a problem. It’s nice to let your fans know that you’re still engaged in the sport that you love.”
Bacon cited that as one of his reasons for uploading a montage that a videographer compiled of him training back in April, less than two weeks after the end of his first season in the NBA. In the video, Bacon shoots a perfect 6 of 6 from the field. (Nobody ever seems to miss a shot on Instagram.) Like Derrickson, Bacon provided a caption: “Still Ain’t Satisfied!!”
Bacon said he was an avid consumer of other players’ Instagram feeds, especially in the offseason. He rummages for training methods that he can add to his routine.
“It’s all about getting better in every aspect,” he said.
Basketball, of course, is a competitive business, and these are competitive people. Troy Brown, a first-round draft pick of the Washington Wizards, made that clear on Instagram in June. He shared a clip that features slow-motion dunks and feathery 3-pointers, staples of the genre, along with a caption that comes off as a sort of challenge to his peers: “I just wanna see if you’ve been working on your game like I’ve been working on mine.” Brown put it online a week before the NBA draft.
“People want to show how much hard work they’ve put in,” he said. “It’s not a cocky type of thing. It’s more of a, ‘Hey, I’m in the gym and I want you guys to see it’ type of thing.”
There are extreme cases. Joe Young, a point guard who spent the past three seasons with the Indiana Pacers, has nocturnal habits, and he does not like to keep them secret. He has used Instagram to share clips of himself working out with giant digital time stamps — 4:19 a.m., 5:45 a.m. and 4:02 a.m. — taking up half the screen.
“You’re allowed to work out later,” Georges Niang, a former teammate, recalled telling him. “It doesn’t have to be at 4:30 in the morning.”
Niang, a forward who has since joined the Utah Jazz, has adopted a more self-deprecating approach to social media. His Instagram feed includes a photo of himself flexing his arms at the gym — and a request for Photoshop help from his followers. (Niang is not a bodybuilder.) He also has a selfie that he took in the immediate wake of a hot yoga session. (He appears to be in no small amount of pain.) He always makes certain, he said, to give shoutouts to his trainers and fitness instructors.
“I didn’t get this far by myself,” Niang said.
As for his social media philosophy, he said: “You can’t be too hardcore about it. I also think it’s a part of building your brand and staying engaged with fans. You want to show people what your offseasons are like, because most people only see what goes on during games.”
Some of these videos are higher quality than others. Levi Randolph, a guard who played for the Pacers at summer league, had no intention of documenting his training sessions when he was home in Alabama a few weeks ago. But when a young videographer and college student named Jared Brashier offered to record him, Randolph was curious to see how it would turn out.
Brashier, who had been doing some work at the gym, produced a short video in a matter of hours and sent it to Randolph, who spent last season with SIG Strasbourg in France. Randolph was so impressed that he not only posted it on Instagram — “It brought a few clients my way,” Brashier said — but also asked Brashier if he could document the rest of his offseason.
“It’s kind of a trend,” said Randolph, who cited a series that the Players’ Tribune has been producing on Isaiah Thomas of the Denver Nuggets called “The Book of Isaiah.”
As for one of the originators of the craft, James has not posted any videos of himself training in a while. He has focused instead on his charitable endeavors, his TV projects and the next generation — by sharing highlight reels of his sons.