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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

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

1 hour ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

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