Out of curiosity, I was scrolling through the list of people Russell Westbrook follows on Twitter. It’s almost inappropriate that this information is made public, considering how personal it really is — this is the list of people who a user has judged worthy of following, who that person actually has an interest in having within earshot any time they check their feed. By following someone else, you’re letting your guard down toward them in a personally harmless but still profound way.
23.5 million people choose to let Justin Bieber this close to them. While checking out Russ Westbrook’s following list, I discovered that he was one of them. This in and of itself isn’t surprising; both dudes, being famous people, exist in a certain sphere of American society that makes them intimates, whether they like it or not. Regardless, Westbrook following Bieber is still amusing. As a pro athlete, Westbrook occupies one of the most stereotypically masculine and serious of adult-acceptable entertainments; Bieber’s a pop star known for his Christ-like popularity among the teenagers and younger. (Because of aging and a more mature approach to music, the demographic appeal of Bieber is shifting, steadily. I’m already on record as saying that his new album is superb.) Who knows if Russ Westbrook ever looks at his feed — he hasn’t even tweeted since 2011 — but when he does, the Biebs’ musings are right there.
That got me wondering: what other players in the Finals follow Justin Bieber? Do all of them? Is this just a thing pros do? Or is Westbrook weird and singular in his pursuit of Bieberian wisdom?
There’s an easy enough way to test: I have a dormant account registered to @BuzzFeedMonta. (Not sure why, now that I think about it.) I followed the 21 players on the Heat and Thunder rosters who have verified accounts, even if they don’t play, i.e. Cole Aldrich. If you look up a user’s profile, it allows you to see the people you follow who follow that person. So how’s it look?
Of the 21 players I follow, only five follow Justin Bieber. OK. What’s interesting about this is that the two best-known players from both teams happen to follow him: the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade; and the Thunder’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. These four also happen to be the only players in the Finals who have ascended to Bieberian levels of fame and celebrity; even Chris Bosh and James Harden aren’t household names to the extent that you could walk into any home in the country and have a conversation about them. James, Wade, Durant, and Westbrook basically are. (Bosh actually has 200,000 more followers than Westbrook, so you could call that a wash, though I think Bosh being five years older than Russ says something about their level of current fame.)
Oh — and then there’s Cole Aldrich. Right.
What does this say about these guys? Probably something strange and ethereal about the obligations of American celebrity, and something about the way notable people use Twitter — the super-famous must follow the super-famous, and the merely well-known are free to follow whatever porn stars they want.
Now that we know how the Bieber plays in the Finals crowd, I have this list assembled: might as well check some other Twitter power users.
Barack Obama: Shane Battier, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, Chris Bosh.
Note: Of our five Bieber followers, only one, Westbrook, follows the President.
Kim Kardashian: Eric Maynor, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James.
Katy Perry: None.
Rihanna: Daequan Cook, James Harden, Eric Maynor, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Thabo Sefolosha, LeBron James.
Drake: Reggie Jackson, Daequan Cook, James Harden, Eric Maynor, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Thabo Sefolosha, Nazr Mohammed, LeBron James, Chris Bosh.
Chris Brown: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James.
Kanye West: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh.
BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith: None, sadly.
Shaq: Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Nazr Mohammed, Mike Miller, LeBron James, Derek Fisher.
Note: Think Shaq realizes that Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh don’t follow him?
Carmelo Anthony: Udonis Haslem, Reggie Jackson, Eric Maynor, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Thabo Sefolosha, LeBron James, Derek Fisher.
How about LeBron himself, since he’s the active player with the most followers?: Only Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha don’t.
Hear that, LeBron?
The question of which players other players follows is a fascinating one, considering the implications it has on subtle notions of respect, regard, priorities, etc. Failing to follow another player doesn’t so much indicate a lack of esteem as it does just not thinking of looking up that player and clicking follow. It could mean that that player doesn’t register on the other players radar. Or it’s disrespect.
As players get more and more keyed into Twitter, though, the lists of who they follow will become an increasingly telling document in trying to determine who and what they think about. They’re also far more select than the lists of their followers. And it’s those small, elite groups that say the most.