It was arguably the most engaging moment of the Milwaukee Bucks’ postgame celebration, but you wouldn’t have caught it if you were watching TV.
After putting up 50 points and steering his team to its first NBA title in as many years, Giannis Antetokounmpo hopped on Instagram Live to toast the championship with his brother, Thanasis. Placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocol prior to Game 5, the elder Antetokounmpo was cooling his heels in a local hotel suite while the bubbly sprayed at the Fiserv Forum.
Hundreds of thousands of fans watched in real-time as the newly minted NBA Finals MVP exalted with his socially distanced brother. A Champagne-goggled Giannis kicked things off with a Delphic riff on “For the Night” by Pop Smoke, cutting off the verse right before it would have veered into the part with the F-bombs, before telling Thanasis that he was bringing the party to his rented room.
“I’ll come to the hotel! I don’t care, I’m coming,” Giannis said, while holding his phone at arm’s length.
“No you’re not,” Thanasis shot back, grinning. “I’m not opening the door.”
While there’s no way of telling just how many people watched the exchange as it happened or viewed the clip after the fact, network execs and marketers alike probably want to tap into Giannis’ base of 9.6 million Instagram followers. Unfortunately for media’s old guard, moments like last night’s impromptu IG Live event are like lightning in a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
“After the fact, someone at ESPN may have thought, ‘Man, I wish we could do that,’ although there aren’t too many people working in TV who’d be willing to risk picking up on a live feed,” said John Kosner, president of Kosner Media. More to the point, Kosner believes that any attempt to commoditize an impromptu social media exchange would only serve to drain it of the authenticity that made the Antetokounmpo brothers’ chat so endearing.
If the traditional media may find itself shut out of this sort of viral exchange, you can be sure that a whole lot of sports stars were taking notes during the Giannis-Thanasis chat. “I can’t think of another time when a separate live event took place during the primary live event which a broadcaster has paid for the right to distribute,” Kosner said. “But if you’re an athlete, what you saw was Giannis commercializing his success. The takeaway is that there are opportunities to create your own windows,” even in the midst of a trophy ceremony.
Naturally, with opportunity comes the inevitable commercialization that spoils everything it touches. If it had been LeBron James hoisting the Larry O’Brien hardware in L.A., fans may have had to endure a not-entirely off-the-cuff bull session between the Laker great and, um, Porky Pig. (Gotta get fannies in the seats for Space Jam: A New Legacy.)
“The natural connection because Giannis and his brother is what made the moment,” Kosner said. “Because of that, and because of all the variables that were in play—the historic championship, the fact that [Thanasis] was in the COVID protocol, etcetera—it’s unlikely that there will be a command performance.”
If Giannis’ IG celebration may be an irreplicable phenomenon, it’s perhaps worth noting that the MVP knows how to pick his spots. While nobody was going to censure the guy who put up that lurid stat line, other players have caught a fair amount of grief for inviting the outside world into the locker room. When Antonio Brown in 2017 secretly posted footage of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talking smack about the Patriots during a boisterous playoff celebration, the receiver’s exercise in guerrilla filmmaking would mark the beginning of the end of his tenure in Pittsburgh.
At the time Brown made the recording, he noted that 40,000 followers were watching his coach’s private address to the team. This morning, 150,000 fans watched Giannis request a 50-piece order (“not 51, not 49”) of Chicken Minis and a large drink, no ice (half Sprite, half lemonade) from a Chick-fil-A drive-through.
Giannis had the MVP trophy in his lap while he ordered the tiny sandwiches.