An Open Letter to #NBATwitter

Since the dawn of my basketball writing journey in 2015, I’ve relied heavily on social media in general and Twitter in particular to drive content decisions, engage with fans, and watch the culture of basketball unfold in order to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on.

In particular, every friend I have in Indiana, I met on Twitter—even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, heart-on-my-sleeve Pacers fan through and through, as readers of this site learn time and again every Tuesday, my only actual connection to the Hoosier State is a girl from Elkhart I was sweet on for a few months back in 2012. The team itself is the fortunate beneficiary of me, during the long dark between when Reggie Lewis died and when Kevin Garnett showed up, needing a team to root for in the playoffs and not wanting to just be a frontrunner who rooted for Michael Jordan.

Eight points. Nine seconds. I had my team of choice, and now 27 years later it’s so deep in my bones that I even root for the Pacers against the Celtics despite a childhood in Boston during Larry Bird’s prime.

I love NBA Twitter. Love the players that stand up for the culture and for what they believe in, doing so in a way that’s so in-your-face and fearless and knowing that Adam Silver and Michele Roberts have their back. If Colin Kaepernick ended up playing basketball, he’d still be a pro athlete on an actual team.

But on December 27, 2020, I Will Smith memed a look around at a now empty home, went into “Settings and Privacy”, and clicked “Deactivate Account.” In theory I have another 18 days to decide whether to make this deletion permanent, but there’s no way in heaven, earth, or hell I’m coming back.

Because like another old white dude with small hands and impulse control problems, Twitter brings out the worst in me.

And it’s that old dude’s sphere of influence—politics—that finally led me to the breaking point.

I go out of my way to keep Pace and Space as apolitical as possible. Win Shares don’t vote. Block percentage doesn’t go on CNN or Fox News. Whether you think LeBron James or Michael Jordan (or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Bill Russell, or anyone else) is the greatest player ever to lace up the sneakers and step on an NBA court only has predictive value for who you voted for insofar as rabid basketball fans tend to lean to the left of the country as a whole.

But until Joe Biden plays enough to generate a PER, this site has nothing to say about him or his presidential predecessor.

On Twitter, I found, quite simply, that you can’t get away from politics. Especially during the offseason, other than on NFL gameday, people need to fill the time, and in 2020, that meant pissing contests and Covid.

What’s more, though, Twitter generates almost no traffic for this site. If I had any illusions about sharing my content on my own social media channels and getting people to click on it for the benefit of my traffic numbers, three years of data from WordPress has disabused me of that notion.

The overwhelming majority of my traffic comes from Google—if you’re wondering why, in 2020, there were a lot fewer articles on this site but they tended to be in-depth statistical tests, “Is He Any Good” features, and other evergreen content, that’s why. It’s because the data overwhelmingly shows that that’s what upwards of 70 percent of you are here to read. And I’m sure some of you have discovered this site based on something you found here and decided to stick around. Thank you for that!

The second-biggest source of traffic referrals is Basketball Reference. About one click in five comes from a player data page on that site thanks to their Player Linker affiliate program, which this site has been part of since November of 2017.

This is especially true for greats of the past who aren’t commonly written about by mainstream publications today; unless someone like Tom Heinsohn or K.C. Jones dies, my name-dropping them tends to mean you’ll see a Pace and Space article somewhere in the “Player News” section of their Basketball Reference page, and people tend to click through from there, especially if the headline mentions them or someone from their era.

But writing about the NBA in 2021 means I name-check players every time I write, and that news feed has become 20 percent of my traffic as a direct result.

Another 9 percent or so of my traffic comes from “direct/no referral” clicks. This is the diehard audience. These are the folks who have Pace and Space bookmarked and who periodically check in to see if I’ve posted anything new. Could be Pacers fans coming in on a Wednesday afternoon figuring my “Pacers Tuesday” column’s finally up by then even if it’s running late, could be weekenders looking to see if there’s a Sunday Statistical Test this week (that column’s finicky because it’s often scrapped when something I wanted to explore just didn’t coalesce into a nice article and so it got binned), could be bored people at work looking for something to read.

In fact, it’s probably that last. More of my traffic comes in between 10 AM and 2 PM Pacific time—so “after lunch and before quitting time” on the East Coast—than at any other time of day.

You know how much of my traffic—and we’re talking over 50,000 pageviews in 2020 alone—came from Twitter?

Naught point three percent. 3 out of every 1,000. And that’s been trending downward. Since September it’s been more like 0.1 percent. One click in a thousand comes from Twitter. Over the course of a year, one-off link shares (like a Warriors World forum post that mentioned a piece I wrote about Andrew Wiggins) do more traffic in a three-day window than Twitter does all year.

So why do I continue to subject myself to a social media platform that’s disastrous to my mental health, doesn’t serve the purpose I initially used it for, and generates so close to no traffic to my site that I might as well just say “nobody ever clicks on a link” (rounded down, it’s 0%, so…)

I finally pulled the plug on the ventilator of that dead patient just after Christmas.

All power to the trend-following social-media hawks who can turn that into content.

But Pace and Space and #NBATwitter just never worked together, and it’s finally time to separate them.

That said, if you got this far through this rant, thank you for reading! Jury’s out on whether there will be something on Sunday (I’ve been kicking around an idea involving PER getting pegged to league averages and what that’s meant over the years, but it’s a lot of data to sift through), but in any event, come here often enough and there will be something new for you, so stay tuned!