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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The emergence of social media has helped the NBA promote its players, reach more fans and make gobs of money. But at what cost?

Driving the news: Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver talked about the depressing vibe he gets when he meets players.

"What strikes me about them is that they are truly unhappy," Silver said. "We are living in a time of anxiety [and] I think part of it is a direct result of social media."

  • "If you're around a team in this day and age, there are always headphones on ... [players] are isolated … they have their heads down."
  • One player spoke to Silver about how isolated he felt. "There was a deep sadness around him," the commissioner added.

The other side: In an appearance on ESPN's "Get Up," Charles Barkley dropped the age-old "rich people can't be unhappy" argument. Classic.

"That's probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard Adam say. Listen, these guys are making 20, 30, 40 million dollars a year, they work 6–7 months a year, stay at the best hotels in the world, they ain't got no problems. That's total bogus."
— Charles Barkley (via ESPN)

My take: This is a full-blown crisis and one that isn't going away anytime soon. Social media, the 24-hour news cycle and all the other things that keep us from ever actually unplugging have real consequences. Athletes, just like you and me, simply cannot let go.

  • Before social media, it was much easier for NBA players to focus on basketball. There were moments — maybe even entire days — where they could mute all the noise and hone in on themselves. There was still a "pureness" to it all, like the feeling you get when you think of your high school sports days.
  • Nowadays, players are exposed to hundreds of trade rumors, hot takes and GIFs each day. Their words are taken out of context and turned into clickbait. Young men who, by some minor miracle, are living out their childhood dreams, are made to feel like pawns in someone else's game. It's almost inescapable.
  • Fame is isolating — lonely, even. And in the age of social media, it's a surreal kind of loneliness because you have all these "fans" who love you and are constantly interacting with you ... but in an app on your phone screen.

The bottom line: Rampant social media usage is a problem that extends far beyond sports, and examining the impact its having on professional athletes really opens your eyes to the magnitude of the problem.

Go deeper: From coast to coast, the growing war on tech addiction

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

5 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.

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