Lest you think passive-aggressive social media drama is limited to you and the members of your immediate friend group, there was some Mean Girls-level Instagram sniping between NBA superstars this past weekend.
King James got royally dunked on (metaphorically speaking) when a video surfaced of Steph Curry, his NBA foil, clowning on him during the wedding of former Warriors teammate Harrison Barnes. The video shows Curry mocking LeBron’s Instagram workout videos, but the real gut-punch was seeing LeBron’s teammate Kyrie Irving doubled over in laughter at the performance.
Cleveland Cavaliers infighting aside, the video is a piece of postmodern social media art in that it perfectly and succinctly encapsulates why LeBron is so widely reviled by players and sports fans alike. People hate him because he’s so dang earnest, which is the worst quality you can have as a modern celebrity.
Curry was specifically calling out LeBron’s tendency to post videos of himself engaging in intense off-season workouts — and that’s fair. While LeBron’s workout videos are impressive, why he feels compelled to document his workout at all is puzzling. No one is worried LeBron is spending the off-season wasting away on some beach taking his fitness for granted. He’s the most athletic player in the NBA (arguably ever) and renowned for the intensity of his various workout regimens.
Posting about it is totally unnecessary, and part of a pattern of LeBron coming off as a try-hard goober. He reminds us of the overachiever in history class, who not only did the optional supplemental reading but made a point of referencing it in class discussion—then stay after school to dissect it with the teacher in greater detail. And much like we resented that schoolmate for setting the curve too high, people resent LeBron for constantly reminding us that he, too, is always on his grind.
Like during the NBA playoffs earlier this year, when LeBron made a point of reading Mario Puzo’s The Godfather while walking into the stadium.
First of all, reading and walking is difficult and dangerous, even for someone with superhuman physicality like LeBron. But the more pressing issue is the lengths LeBron will go to to signal how serious he is about winning. So much so that he’ll read classic novels about the nature of power, family and betrayal to mentally prepare himself for competition.
Or when he went out of his way to tell us he’s on good terms with his teammates.
We get it, man. You take yourself seriously. Too seriously, in fact, and it’s exasperating. NBA fans respond to these kinds of posts with a collective jerk-off motion.
Self-seriousness is the same reason NFL fans love to skewer J.J. Watt. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a virtual shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and a contender to break the all-time sacks record. But Watt also has a reputation as an insufferable social media presence. He never misses an opportunity to remind us how much he loves our nation’s troops, film himself completing a 61-inch box jump or show off his movie-star girlfriend.
Much like his workout videos, Watt’s patriotism is self-serving. It’s a cloying attempt to generate goodwill, and more in service of his personal brand than the troops he’s paying tribute to.
Watt’s constant virtue-signaling inspired its own meme, “Uhh, hey, JJ” where NFL fans point out all the ways Watt is being problematic. For instance, this February, Watt congratulated Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown on signing a monster four-year, $68 million contract extension.
The congratulations were totally unnecessary (though typical of Watt), and inspired a wave of “Uhh, hey, JJ” responses.
Watt has defended his social media activity by saying he isn’t a phony, that all of his posts are genuine and that he’s the victim of online cynicism. He’s absolutely right about that. Watt and Lebron may come across as exceedingly earnest do-gooders, but that is their true nature. And whenever they attempt to seem like down-to-earth, regular guys, it comes across as clumsy and forced.
What we want are celebrities who are extraordinarily successful, but maintain the veneer of being regular guys — guys who don’t try or care all that much about anything, especially themselves (no matter how bullshit that image may be). The worst thing for a modern-day professional isn’t to have a record of questionable behavior; it’s to lack self-awareness.