By James Kay
Last weekend, ESPN announced it is going to air 15 of LeBron James' games on its networks this season. No, not LeBron James Sr. ESPN is going to air games played by 15-year-old LeBron James Jr. and his high school team during its regular season.
Basketball has now hit a point in popularity that there is a demand to see every prospect who has a chance to crack an NBA roster — whether they are 22 years old or 15 years young.
With the NBA opening the floodgates to high-school hoopers joining its league as early as 2021, the question needs to be asked: Is it healthy to expose high school athletes to NBA level scrutiny? Because whether you like it or not, NBA Twitter is coming to high school basketball with a viciousness that rivals the Wednesday Journal Facebook comment section.
There are two sections of NBA Twitter that high school basketball fans need to be made aware of before the madness completely makes its way to every high school gym. There are the ones who create the chaos (the media and its 24/7 news cycle) and the ones who throw gasoline, propane, and alcohol onto the fire of social media.
NBA reporters are constantly competing against one another to come up with content that stands out enough to lure in the lunatics who stir the pot. Because of that, their coverage is extending to high school hoops (Sports Illustrated recently wrote a 3,000-word piece breaking down 15-year-old Emoni Bates' seven-hour day at school).
The media hyping high school NBA prospects isn't a revelation by any means. From French Lick's Larry Bird to "Chosen One" LeBron James, there has always been some sort of spotlight on the elite high school basketball players in the country.
However, the way in which the NBA's fanbase consumes basketball content has dramatically changed since the NBA's rise in the mid-1980s.
Social media platforms like Twitter have become vehicles for spreading in-game highlights, improbable trade scenarios, and instant updates from reporters with deep ties within the league.
With the reports of high school graduates potentially entering the league 24 months from now, high school basketball players are now exposed to Twitter accounts like "Slam HS Hoops" who re-post viral videos of prospects dunking and euro-stepping through their opponents.
While these teenagers exhibit elite athleticism and promise, the trolls of the internet swoop in with their unwarranted criticism and "expert" opinions. For example, NBA rookie Zion Williamson has made headlines the last two years for appearing to be overweight (a conversation that started when he was 17).
Publicly, it appears that Zion has been able to tune out the noise on NBA Twitter and beyond. But not every high-schooler is going to have thick skin. With what is at stake at the NBA level, it is easy to forget that we are evaluating children (not just NBA prospects) who are starting to transition into adulthood.
The scrutiny on NBA Twitter has reached (and impacted) the league's veterans as well. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a conversation with The Ringer's Bill Simmons last May, "When I meet with [NBA players], what surprises me is that they're truly unhappy. … If you're around a team in this day and age, there are always headphones on. [The players] are isolated, and they have their heads down."
If adults are genuinely unhappy with the overwhelming amount of attention they garner as professional basketball players, what makes Silver think teenagers are going to adjust to the constant chastising that occurs on Twitter?
The younger generation can't help itself but look at what is being said about them on social media. During his recent appearance on the "Winging It" podcast, Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler said a lot of younger players go on social media at halftime to see what the Twittersphere is saying about them. NBA teams have psychologists on staff to help alleviate the daily stresses players go through as professional athletes.
High school players don't enjoy the same luxury. Instead, there will be kids tormented by the showering of criticism and high expectations placed on their shoulders by trolls hiding behind Twitter handles.
By 2021, there is a chance that when the next basketball phenom comes walking through the front doors of the main gym, there will be reporters eagerly taking pictures and diligent notes of that player's performance that night. NBA Twitter will pile on the stress that comes with being a highly touted NBA prospect and all traces of amateurism at the high school level will be lost.
You've been warned, high school basketball: NBA Twitter is coming.