The NBA's Jim Poorten stands on the basketball court of the Chesapeake Arena and uses an iPhone to snap a photo of the action on the court. He runs deep into the arena to connect to Wi-Fi and upload it as quickly as possible to one of the NBA's official Twitter accounts.
Within three minutes, more than 50 people have reposted — “retweeted” — the photo to their own fans as they watch the NBA Finals action between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder unfold on Twitter.
As Poorten bounces around the arena snapping photos and taking video with more access than most to the players, he wants to give the public the “fly on the wall viewpoint,” he said. As he shoots, he keeps in mind the stories and scenes in the arena that he would retell to his friends after the game — one photo offering courtside includes rapper Lil Wayne and NBA super fan James “Jimmy” Goldstein.
Poorten's actions mimic the thousands of fans throughout the arena who are telling the NBA Finals story in their own ways to friends via their preferred social media sites. The NBA's extensive social media web, however, is in place to cater to an audience of millions of people around the world who want to feel as if they are in Oklahoma City and Miami for the NBA Finals, watching and analyzing the games courtside.
This operation involves cameras placed high in arena rafters, video teams and photographers on the ground, people as far away as New Jersey and New York monitoring trending topics and other social media activity and editing photos, former NBA players-turned-TV analysts keeping NBA TV vibrant with new shows, others updating stats for the NBA mobile applications and NBA.com and more. The teams come from NBA Digital, NBA Entertainment, league partner Turner Sports Digital and from throughout the NBA operation.
“The whole thing is such an enormous production,” said Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, NBA marketing vice president. “It's sort of amazing to watch.”
The NBA photo team's piece in this production operates during Games 1 and 2 from a command center pocketed in the Chesapeake Arena basement. The room is easy to miss amid all the behind-the-scenes activity on that floor, where Thunder Girls pop in and out of tunnels to get to the floor, members of the media file their stories from the press room and halftime talent gets ready for the world stage on the court.
But it's to that photo room that runners deliver full SD memory cards from game photographers every few minutes to Joe Amati, vice president of NBA Photos. He uploads the photos, reviews them, edits as necessary and sends some to other NBA team members for social media postings right away. Others are sent to a team in New Jersey who will work with them more and post them to a special Getty Images NBA photo site. These photos are the ones that media subscribers worldwide will use to tell their own stories. He deals with 50 gigabytes of information — more than 1,000 photos — per game.
Amati has to forecast what photo demands will be, whether people want to see player matchups like the Thunder's Kevin Durant vs. the Heat's LeBron James, celebrities who attend, key action shots or more. In Oklahoma City, of the 10 photographers covering the game high and low, he assigned a photographer just to take photos of the Thunder fans — with James Harden beards, painted faces and more.
“It's an enthusiastic crowd that brings it for the whole game,” Amati said. “I think the way the playoffs have evolved is that the building and the fans have evolved into their own separate storyline.”
It's a story line that more than 278 million people followed in Oklahoma City last week and will continue to Miami for this one. This number equals those who either “like” or “follow” NBA and related sites on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and other social media, such as the NBA Arena for fans on Facebook's Shaker site. That number includes those who follow individual NBA players and teams. In China, more than 52 million followers are active on Chinese microblogs Sina and Tencent. The videos on the NBA's YouTube channel have been watched nearly 1 billion times.
On Twitter, the NBA focuses on posting live updates; on Facebook, more conversation, Brenner said. The NBA's Tumblr site is designed for more evocative, thoughtful imagery from the games, such as Durant giving kids a high-five during a recent pregame warm-up, she added. The NBA's mobile apps for smartphones and the iPad, known as NBA Game Time and Game Time Courtside, have videos, statistics, news stories and detailed information.
“Anywhere you're interested in consuming some of it, it's there,” said Christina Miller, general manger of NBA Digital. “It's our role to bring that experience to everybody who's not sitting in those seats every night, for them to be able to feel that they've had a bit of access, that they've had a peek behind the curtain.”