Too Anxious to Watch: FOMO in the NBA
The 2019–20 Season has dialed up my fear of missing out to 11.
It’s 2019 and anxiety is the flavor of the day. Social media has ravaged all but the strongest willed among us (breaking news: I’m not one of them) and the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has become a newsworthy pandemic that rears its head everywhere from school yards to the US National Library of Medicine.
Unsurprisingly, FOMO’s very nature is incredibly applicable to the NBA. In the 73 years since the NBA’s inception, the league has become nearly unparalleled in its social pervasiveness. As players’ and owners’ pockets grow fatter, their grasp on fans grows tighter. We tune in for NBA All-Star Draft specials, and wonder why DeMar DeRozan obliterated his Instagram feed. That’s just the nature of marketing a multi-billion-dollar organization — who wants to watch a competitive sport that is replicable with a few friends in the back yard?
The distance created between the NBA and its viewers adds an air of mystery, even in a 24/7 always online world. Teams redesign jerseys and courts to tug on viewers heartstrings and wallets. (How many Miami Heat games have you tuned into for a bump of nostalgia via those Vicewave jerseys?) Just as the Association touts its latest charitable efforts (which are great) it drips out reminders to subscribe to League Pass to avoid missing any of the action.
Therein lies the problem. In the 2019–20 season, the NBA fan must concede. The great reorganization of power following the disbandment of the three-time champion Golden State Warriors opened a void in the standings and in television broadcasts. Without the comfort of a reigning champion, viewers have to (gasp) watch basketball for the first time in a decade. What was once taken for granted — LeBron James or the Warriors in the NBA Finals — has given way to a new landscape seized by burgeoning talents. Luka Doncic has shown himself a basketball savant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is proving that 31 points per game can still include abysmal shooting from 3 (Giannis is the only player this decade to average at least 30 points per game while hitting on fewer than 32 percent of his triples).
Everything we thought we knew about the NBA has gone belly up. We thought Carmelo Anthony was done. He’s not. We thought Ben Simmons couldn’t shoot 3s. He can (well, kinda). We have a coaches challenge, updated shot clock rules and the possibility of a mid-season tournament (among other things). There exists a compelling reason to watch each and every NBA team this season, and that’s fantastic.
It’s also terrifying.
The NBA community regularly touts the nerdiness of its fanbase. Maybe it’s the nuances of the game. The many micro decisions that exist within each 24 second possession invite scrutiny akin to baseball’s sabermetrics.
That level of detail has spawned within NBA conversations the burden of knowledge. It’s not enough to spout off eye test predictions. NBA writers and fans are expected to be smarter, to watch more games and to be more accurate in their predictions. The league is as close to a science as it has ever been, reducing talk about inert rivalries like the Sixers versus the Raptors or whether the Knicks should have fired David Fizdale. There is too much information to be processed to be giving out gut check analysis. There’s been too much change to present anything but the facts.
All the roster changes this season has added to the terror of being an informed NBA Fan. Conversations with friends start to sound more like episodes of Charles Barkley partaking in “Who He Play For?” Loving to watch basketball used to be enough to power through an 82-game season, but with every team offering something interesting — be it Collin Sexton’s high octane play on a struggling Cleveland squad or Kemba Walker’s destruction of Kyrie’s mold in Boston — the stress of inadequacy piles up. This is the first time I’ve ever thought: am I qualified to talk about basketball?
As with social media and its bevy of color-corrected vacation photos and highlight reel videos, the fear of missing out on NBA action isn’t a motivator — its anxiety inducing. I’ve never felt more distant to the sport I grew up playing. When I didn’t make the cut at Monmouth University’s basketball tryouts some eight years ago, I didn’t swear off basketball for a new hobby, I dove deeper into my fandom, realizing that not playing college basketball wasn’t a gatekeeper to my enjoyment.
I’m not so sure how I feel anymore. There’s a disconnect I feel from the game that’s never hit me in my 20 years as a fan. There is too much to learn, too much to dissect. I (think) I still love the game, but man, the NBA is crazy right now.