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An All-Star Slam Dunk: 1B 'Likes' for NBA on Social

It's the first professional sports league to surpass 1 billion likes and followers across its social media platforms.
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It's a weekend of monster slam dunks, 3-point shootouts and a chance for the NBA's most successful players to showcase their talents. But Commissioner Adam Silver will take a time out from the All-Star game festivities in Toronto on Saturday to announce that the National Basketball Association has reached a new milestone. It's the first professional sports league to surpass 1 billion likes and followers across its social media platforms.

The league's more than a billion likes and followers includes all league, team and player accounts combined across social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, along with Tencent and Sina in China.

"In this world, it's high expectations to think your fans are going to come to you. You need to go where the fans are," said Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, the NBA's senior vice president of digital media.

Rosenthal Brenner, under the helm of Silver, has led the drive to become the most digital-savvy sports league.

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The NBA's more than 28 million likes on its Facebook page is more than double the NFL's 13 million, nearly 4.5 times that of Major League Baseball's following and seven times that of the National Hockey League.

On Twitter, the results are similar. The NBA's handle has more than 19.5 million followers. The NFL comes in a close second with 16 million. MLB has about a fourth of the NBA's followers with 5.39 million and the NHL has 4.36 million followers.

Instagram, the smallest of the three platforms for the NBA, has 12.6 million @NBA followers.

"I would describe it as shocking, considering the TV ratings. They have some amazing numbers," said Tom Richardson, president of the consulting firm Convergence Sports & Media and a professor of sports management at Columbia University.

Rosenthal Brenner says the 2015 NBA Finals was the most tweeted event of the year and correlated into making the game the most viewed NBA Finals since 1998.

Richardson says part of the reason for the success is the fact that basketball highlights are so sharable.

"There are a lot of crazy dunks and alley oops in basketball. You can see a spectacular LeBron play in six seconds," he said. "You can't necessarily say that about other sports."

He says the NBA's creative distribution approach is also adding to the success. The league shares content with partners such as Bleacher Report and YouTube. Other leagues are much more protective of their content.

"Highlights are marketing," Silver announced last year at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

The NBA has been a trailblazer in social media from the beginning — from offering a la carte NBA games for $6.99 via social media to becoming the first professional sports league to include the @NBA handle on the official Spalding game ball before the 2014-2015 season.

This season, for the first time, the NBA All-Star MVP Award fan vote will be conducted exclusively through Twitter via unique player emojis.

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The league will also broadcast Silver's Saturday press conference and behind-the-scenes player access across the Facebook Live platform.

With nearly 90 percent of NBA players on at least one social media platform, teams and players are using innovative approaches to interact with fans.

From Damian Lillard's "4 Bar Friday," an Instagram-based freestyle competition where Lillard has gained more than 66K followers, to Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry's pregame routine, the NBA is embracing it.

"Players have led the way on social media. Seeing what they have done creatively has helped us try new things," said Rosenthal Brenner.

So, who are the NBA's social All-Stars who have the biggest following? Twelve-time NBA-Star LeBron James tops the list with more 66 million total likes and followers.

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant came in second with 33.7 million followers, about half of the followers of King James.

Rounding out the top five are Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade and the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony.

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When it comes to the most popular teams on social media — the Lakers take the crown with more than 28 million total likes and followers. The Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and world champion Golden State Warriors are all in the top five.

"To have players with millions of followers doing the marketing of the sport and the NBA is a huge benefit," said Columbia's Richardson.