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  • Ben Millard

Steph Curry and LeBron James are going head-to-head on the court... and the Map

When two titans of the NBA world go head-to-head for a playoff spot, you know Twitter is going to have some takes. LeBron James and the Lakers play Steph Curry and the Warriors in the play-in game on May 19; being the curious sort, we took a look at how these massively influential players are perceived by the Twitterverse ahead of the big match-up.


To do this, we pulled all mentions of Lebron, Lebron James, @KingJames, Curry, Steph Curry, Stephen Curry and @StephenCurry30 from Twitter on May 17, 2021 and coded the relevant results using the Q.i. MAPPER Personality list. We focused only on English-language tweets from the USA. We then plotted the results on a Q.i. HeatMap to get the big picture. Here they are at-a-glance:



Q.i. HeatMaps use colour and distance to express the intensity and difference between various words we use to describe something, in this case each athlete's Personality. A simple heat scale from cool-blue to red-hot shows the intensity of association with each star's personality traits. The top positive traits are labelled in black text, negatives in white. The coloured "pie" underneath shows the broad relationships between 8 different types of traits, with the most positive words clustering close to the center. Negative words are displayed in the darker, outer band. Each coloured "slice" depicts groupings of thematically-related terms, positioned across from those with an opposite meaning. For example, in the yellow space we have the term "Exciting," whereas the green space contains "Quiet." Now that we can read the map, let's look closer at the implications for each of these ballers.



Lebron James


On LeBron's Map, we see a lot of heat. Most of it is clustered toward the bottom-left, in the "Influential" area; this space is typically associated with performance and high achievement. Across the Map we also see he is "Likeable" and "Good," though in slightly lesser measure. This kind of balance contributes to a unique identity, allowing a person or brand to be more than "one thing" in the minds of others.


At the same time, we see hot spots all over the outer edge of the Map, beyond the negative band; this indicates that LeBron can be a polarizing figure on and off the court. Descriptions like "Arrogant" and "Immature" might reflect some of the controversy around athletes using their platforms to weigh in on social issues. This is exemplified by the "more than an athlete" movement championed by Mr. James. At the same time, words like "Bad" and "Struggling" may be generating heat because fans allow their perceptions of performance on the court to inform how they view the person off of it.

All of this culminates in the "Affinity score," a simple calculation using the most positive attributes. Despite some controversy, LeBron James is still highly regarded in the Twitterverse with a score of 20.


Stephen Curry


Over to Steph, and things are little cooler on the Map. While the top attribute for both him and LeBron is "Remarkable," Steph scores a little lower. On other traits in the bottom-left "Influential" space, he is perceived more strongly. This gives Steph Curry a very tight, positive heat signature on the Map. What he lacks, compared with LeBron James, are balancing equities on the other side of the Map. He is not as "Likeable" or "Good," implying his appeal is more limited outside the basketball world.


When looking to the negative edge of the Map, Steph Curry certainly does not draw as much heat as LeBron James. His top two negative traits ("Bad" and "Perfectionistic") could be put down to the mentioned phenomenon of fans allowing game performance to influence their perceptions. And being perfectionistic in an athletic context may not be that negative at all! This is not to say Mr. Curry is not using his platform to speak on social issues. The lower negative associations are more likely related to the fact that he does not draw the same attention as a once-in-a-generation talent and celebrity like LeBron James. Though, he remains a very good player nonetheless.


All told, it's safe to assume that Steph's strong bona fides in the Influential space on the map, and fewer overall negative associations, allow him to maintain a high standing in the Twitterverse (though lower than LeBron) with an Affinity score of 14.


Side-by-side we really start to see some of the implications of being more than an athlete. As a movie star, media mogul, activist, investor, and philanthropist, LeBron James is not everyone's cup of tea. Though, this has brought balance to how he is perceived and expanded his reach beyond the world of basketball fans. Steph Curry has a comparably broad range of interests and ventures beyond basketball, but this has not yet elevated him to the same level of superstardom. This may also be influenced by the degree to which each athlete has deliberately pursued a high or low profile, a metric not easily revealed by one day's worth of Tweets.


What is clear, going into the big game, is that there are a few more Tweeters rooting against LeBron and the Lakers. But regardless of the game's final score, there's no doubt both players will be remembered for years to come. Though, LeBron James may stand out more for better and worse. In this way, controversy can generate awareness; suffering in the court of public opinion can bring fame and opportunity beyond the basketball court.

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