Trending at Halftime: N.B.A. Players Checking Their Phones


The Knicks’ Kevin Seraphin, 26, said friends asked him to turn off his phone at restaurants because he could not control himself otherwise. He maintains active accounts on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Periscope and likes interacting online with fans. He said he was even developing his own social media app.

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Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook before a game in November against New Orleans.

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Layne Murdoch/NBAE, via Getty Images

“I’m not perfect,” Seraphin said. “I love social networks.”

Like anyone else, though, the players are hardly immune from phone-related social media embarrassments, it’s just that theirs get more attention.

The Los Angeles Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell last month apologized after a cellphone video he took of a teammate, Nick Young, who appeared to be discussing an affair, ended up on social media. (Two years ago, Young, in street clothes sitting out a game, was caught on camera checking his phone on the bench.)

Hawes said that for his pregame nap — a customary routine in the league — he has needed to put his phone farther and farther from his bed. “So if I get the itch, I can’t just roll over and throw away an hour scrolling and going down that rabbit hole,” he said.

Players these days are practically tied to their devices before the game, listening to music, arranging tickets for friends and family, watching game video.

The minutes after the final buzzer, when the players return to the locker room, can resemble the moment when a plane lands or a subway car emerges above ground: a mob of silent people, heads hovering over glowing screens, reading texts, emails and social media notifications.

“You see everyone looking like zombies getting to their phones, trying to see what’s going on and if they missed anything,” Caron Butler of the Sacramento Kings said of the postgame scene.

Halftime phone use tends to be more discreet. For some players, there’s still guilt attached to it. Frank Kaminsky, a Hornets rookie, said his college coach at Wisconsin, Bo Ryan, had made players turn off their phones at the arena. Kaminsky said he still does not look at his phone for the duration of a game.

“It still feels like I’m doing something wrong if I do,” he said.

Richard Jefferson, 35, of the Cleveland Cavaliers — who joked about being old enough to remember when not every player had a phone — said halftime phone use should be limited to quickly checking on family members.

Some policing still occurs today, but it tends to be less formal. It also tends not to work.

The former Denver coach Brian Shaw, who has admitted to having difficulty relating to millennials, for a time confiscated his players’ phones and put them in a box before games during the Nuggets’ dismal 2014-15 season, complaining that the players lacked focus.

Phil Jackson, the Knicks’ president, told players this season that he preferred they not take their phones out at halftime, Seraphin said. “Phil’s really old school,” Seraphin said. “He doesn’t want players to touch their phones. I mean, you can take your own risk, but he doesn’t really like it.”

Jose Calderon of the Knicks practically winced when asked if he took out his phone at halftime: “Oh, no, not halftime,” he said. “Well, I don’t. You’re thinking about the game.”

Still, several Knicks admitted to peeking at their phones and acknowledged seeing their teammates do the same.

Aaron Brooks of the Chicago Bulls recalled how Dikembe Mutombo used to yell at teammates to put away their phones when the two played together years ago on the Houston Rockets. Brooks said some Bulls players tried to institute a policy limiting phone use inside the locker room this season.

“But that didn’t really last too long,” he said, laughing.

Major League Baseball and the N.F.L. prohibit players from using any portable electronic devices during games. The N.B.A. allows players to use mobile devices but prohibits them from posting to social media during games.

At least one N.B.A. player has actively tried to fight the trend. Lou Amundson of the Knicks said he was limiting his phone use these days, owing to his metaphysical perspective on the growing prominence of electronic devices in modern life. At a recent game, he was dismayed to see the ball boys looking at their phones between rebounds and passes.

“You’re on the court at the Garden!” he said, recalling the scene. “Be in the moment, man.”

Amundson, who studied philosophy at Nevada-Las Vegas, said society’s collective phone addiction hindered “pure interaction” and “intention-filled relationships.” He thought texting and social media divided a person’s energy in negative ways. He rued how the dopamine-loop associated with devices obliterated a person’s attention span.

“It takes us as a society someplace I don’t think we need to be going,” Amundson said. “I really feel strongly that there’s going to be some kind of countercultural revolution where people start to reject this idea that you need to be connected and you need to have access to everything and you need a phone in front of your face the whole day.”

Any revolution, though, seems unlikely to originate in N.B.A. locker rooms.

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