Who Is Behind Those N.B.A. ‘Bubble Life’ Tweets?
Who Is Behind Those N.B.A. ‘Bubble Life’ Tweets?
For nearly two weeks, the Twitter accounts @NBABubbleLife and @WNBABubbleLife have anonymously chronicled the world’s best basketball players shotgunning beers, dancing with their teammates, failing at fishing and going about everyday activities, like getting haircuts and eating pancakes.
The posts — a curated series of videos, photos and musings pulled from players’ social media accounts — detail the mundanity, and sometimes absurdity, of life in quarantine for the players as they restart their seasons, at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. (N.B.A.) and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. (W.N.B.A.). They have delighted basketball fans and garnered attention from the players and from ESPN, a broadcast partner of the N.B.A.
So who is behind the #wholesomecontent? Both accounts are run by a quartet of self-described West Coast “hoop heads” and friends, some of whom work in the N.B.A. media world: Nick DePaula, who writes about the shoe industry for ESPN; Wells Phillips, who works in marketing for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board; Travonne Edwards, a podcast host for The Athletic and an elementary schoolteacher in Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Drew Ruiz, a staffer for the Drew League, the Los Angeles-based basketball association, who has also written for Slam Magazine. They all met through the basketball and sneaker worlds in Los Angeles.
Since launching on July 10, @NBABubbleLife has accumulated more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, a large amount for such a short period of time. A companion Instagram account has more than 13,000 followers. The W.N.B.A. Twitter account, which started the next day, has about 2,300 followers.
In an email, the group said that their employers were not aware of their involvement with the accounts.
During a Zoom conversation with The New York Times, the four friends said the idea sprang from their group text. DePaula, 35, sent a message: “Account that would blow up on Twitter: @nbabubblelife.” Phillips, 38, wrote back after setting up the handle: “The account is open,” he said, adding that it would be a “passion project.”
“This is something we’d be following and talking about among ourselves regardless,” DePaula said.
For this quartet of basketball aficionados, the accounts provide not just some laughs for the consumers, but also a welcome distraction from the daily deluge of troubling news, particularly rising case counts for Covid-19 and social unrest related to police brutality. Edwards, the teacher, said the account had helped him deal with the uneasiness of returning to school in the fall. Phillips’s day job in tourism has ground to a halt because of the pandemic.
“This project has helped me mentally to have an escape,” Phillips said. “I get some fun versus six hours a day of seeing negativity. The timing has been perfect.”
They all create posts, based on their availability. Ruiz, 29, often posts in the morning, for example, and Phillips around noon.
“We’re really staying in communication. ‘Hey, I’ve got to go work out.’ Or ‘Hey, I have to go step out for a bit.’ Can somebody do this and watch this account? We really run this egoless,” Edwards, 35, said.
The accounts provide a wide-ranging, heavily filtered glimpse into the lives of basketball players who, for at least a couple months, have few physical responsibilities outside of basketball and may not be in this situation again. They are away from the public and far from cameras that aren’t their own.
A video of Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers guard, posing with a fish he had just caught and then bungling the throw back into the water has more than 1.5 million views. It spawned several rounds of Twitter jokes about Simmons’s shooting ability — a brief return to normalcy for those who routinely follow basketball social media accounts. There was a picture of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks star, decorating a door for his brother Thanasis’s birthday. A post from Sunday shows Simmons’s teammate, Josh Richardson, being fascinated by a turkey on a golf course.
“This is like ‘Man vs. Wild,’” Richardson exclaimed in his Instagram post, which @NBABubbleLife then reposted.
“They’re kind of kids, right?” Phillips said. “A lot of them are not that old, so I think the fun that we’re seeing is a lot of these guys who were in A.A.U. in these same situations under 10 years ago. It’s just back to living their teenage years out at 25, and they just happen to be millionaires now.”
On the W.N.B.A. account, there are posts highlighting the sneaker collection of Los Angeles Sparks guard Te’a Cooper; Chicago Sky players’ dancing; and thoughts about the Florida weather from Candace Parker, the Sparks star and two-time Most Valuable Player Award winner.
“You step outside and the humidity does something to you, like to your soul,” Parker says in a video.
On the second day the N.B.A. account was up, New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick was asked how many retweets it would take for him to shotgun a Bud Light. Redick responded, setting the bar at 10,000 — a high number by Twitter standards. But the internet can be a powerful place: Redick’s tweet surpassed that number within a matter of hours, and he kept up his end of the bet, posting a video of himself chugging a beer in an ice bath.
“A bet’s a bet,” Edwards said. “When that rolled out, we were kind of like, ‘We’ve got something, fellas.’”
Days later, Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz indulged in a speedy beer drinking competition of their own and tagged the bubble account.
As the accounts have gained popularity, the men behind them said they have begun to take their passion project more seriously, feeling a responsibility to provide basketball fans with bubble-related nourishment.
This is not an account, however, where players will be made to look foolish — at least not intentionally. It is meant to be a counterweight to some things players have shared and been criticized for, such as when Rajon Rondo, the Lakers guard, posted a picture of his hotel room and compared it to a Motel 6. This is also an unusual role for those who work in N.B.A.-related media to take on: creators of a friendly account designed to make the players they cover look good.
“We didn’t want it to be us making fun of guys or showing the bad food pictures or make it seem like they were just complaining,” DePaula said. “We wanted to celebrate everyone’s personality.”
They must now decide how to make use of the account’s popularity and whether to take it past October, when the season concludes. They’ve discussed using the account to raise money for causes that players residing on the campuses care about.
“We’re four friends who decided to just do something fun and it turned out to be something special,” Edwards said. “If we can merge both worlds and give our part to social injustice, that’s the most important thing for us.”