Most Followed NBA Ballers
Instagram is a social media tool used by many for visual storytelling, and it can prove advantageous for an entire spectrum of people – everyone from the average Joe to mega superstars. For sports fans, it's a super easy way to keep tabs on pro athletes (including your favorite NBA players), and as with everyone else on Instagram, some players have more followers than others. This can be due to many factors, from the player's popularity to how often he or she posts photos or videos.
We took a look at Instagram data to see what players, teams, conferences, and positions have the most followers, and how a superstar can cause a power shift when he moves to a new team. Let's take a look at who the biggest NBA stars are on Instagram and how the rest of the league stacks up.
King James ... and Everyone Else
At the top of the heap, we find LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, which is not a surprise considering his massive popularity and the number of accolades he's piled up over his 15-plus seasons in the NBA. The three-time NBA champion has 46.4 million Instagram followers, nearly double the next guy on the list. Golden State's Stephen Curry, who is a three-time NBA champion himself, has 23.4 million followers, which is still a lot.
These top two Instagram stars far outshine the rest of the top 25. After Curry, we find Kyrie Irving with 12.4 million followers. Irving, who started his career in Cleveland and won the championship in 2016 with James, currently plays for the Boston Celtics. There are two other guys in the 12-million follower range: Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.
From there, the follower count drops off precipitously, but every one of these top 25 guys has at least 3 million followers. Names that appear on this list are well-known, probably even outside of the casual fan – such as James Harden (8.7 million), Carmelo Anthony (6.3 million), Giannis Antetokounmpo (3.8 million), and Kevin Love (3 million).
Next, we looked at the teams with the highest Instagram followers, based on totaling the teams' players' instagram followers, as well as looking at the official team accounts. The LA Lakers are tops here, which is probably due to their long history of championship seasons and a large fan base – possibly bolstered because of the addition of LeBron James to their roster before the 2019 season started. Their 4.2 million followers are ahead of the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors (who've appeared in the last four finals and won three), who clock in at 3.3 million followers.
The Houston Rockets have the third most followers at 1.8 million, and next in line are the Oklahoma City Thunder at 1.5 million. Other teams with a million or more Instagram followers are the Celtics (1.2 million), the Heat (1 million), and the 76ers (1 million).
The rest of the top 10 are under a million followers, but that doesn't mean their numbers are wimpy. The Cavaliers come in at at 981,000, the Trail Blazers at 592,000, and the Wizards at 589,000.
The West Is the Best?
We also looked at NBA Instagram average followers by conference. The West has nearly double the number of followers as the East, likely bolstered by the LA Lakers' account, which has the largest Instagram fan base for its players and is conveniently located in the Western Conference, along with other popular teams on Instagram like the Warriors and Rockets.
The gulf between the two conferences is even more apparent when we divide each conference by its three divisions. The Pacific Division in the Western Conference outpaces the other five divisions by a large margin – about a million more followers than the next closest in follower count, the Northwest Division in the West. The next highest divisions are in the West, and the three Eastern Conference divisions make up the back half, with the Central Division in last place.
Who Leads in the East?
Next, we broke down each division in the Eastern Conference to find out which players come out on top in Instagram followers for each team. Two players stand out right away – Kyrie Irving in Boston, and Dwyane Wade in Miami, both topping out at over 12 million followers. There are a few other teams that stand out, one being the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Central Division. This is not a huge surprise, as the Cavs have been to the NBA Finals four times in a row (winning one championship), which made some of their players household names, like J.R. Smith (4.26 million followers), Tristan Thompson (3.05 million), and Kevin Love (2.96 million).
On the other hand, we have teams with only one player boasting IG followers over a million, such as the Chicago Bulls, with Zach LaVine nabbing that sole distinction at 1.86 million followers. The Milwaukee Bucks are another example, although their player with over a million followers, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has a whopping 3.79 million followers. The next guy on the Bucks' list is Eric Bledsoe with 580,000 followers.
Western Conference Instagram Leaders
Next, we head to the West, where the numbers are definitely higher when compared to the Eastern Division. For starters, the player with the most followers in the NBA is in this conference (Laker LeBron James, with 46.45 million in the Pacific Division). The Golden State Warriors also have a ton of followers throughout their team, including Curry with 23.42 million, Kevin Durant with 10.35 million, Klay Thompson with 5.87 million, and Draymond Green with 3.17 million. Both of these teams, in fact, don't have any numbers below a million among their top 5.
Other teams have heavy-hitters among their roster as well, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder (Westbrook with 12.01 million and Paul George with 7.11 million) and the Houston Rockets (Harden with 8.67 million, Chris Paul with 8.43 million, and Carmelo Anthony with 6.34 million).
There are also several teams with player followings below a million, but overall, big-name players with huge followings really help carry the conference as a whole.
Position by Position
Finally, we checked to see which player positions seemed to have the biggest average Instagram followers. Power forwards take the top spot here with 1.1 million average followers. Next, you'll find point guards with a million followers, followed by shooting guards (639,000), centers (442,000), and small forwards (375,000).
Although opinions vary, there are arguments to be made for virtually any of these positions as far as popularity goes. Also, players can take up more than one position, depending on the matchup and a coach's game plan. LeBron James, for example, is listed as a forward on the NBA website, which means he can play either power forward or small forward.
LeBron James, as mentioned above, has the most Instagram followers in the NBA by a large margin. And although both the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder have several players with a ton of followers, James' 46.4 million followers is actually more than the top 5 Rockets and Thunder players combined.
Also, the player with the second-most Instagram followers, Stephen Curry, has an interesting note of his own. His 23.4 million followers total the most when compared to all other point guards in the NBA, and it's triple the number of followers of the top 5 centers and small forwards.
Professional athletes are just like the rest of us because they use social media, right? Well, that is you don't count their multimillions of followers. Some superstars garner a ton of followers, while other players, not so much. It's always fun to see, though, how players, teams, and whole conferences compare.
Methodology and Limitations
For this study, we pulled the follower count of NBA players on Instagram. Using team rosters as of Jan. 14, 2019, we analyzed and compared follower counts of the most well-known athletes to identify the top 5 most followed players per team. We only used verified Instagram accounts. Players without official accounts (Vince Carter, for example) were not included in the study. The main limitation of this study is that follower counts could have changed from the dates they were initially pulled due to trades, injuries, and retirement, which could impact the players currently ranked among the top 5 for their respective teams.
Fair Use Statement
Not everyone has the clout to become an Instagram superstar, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to see how pro athletes do it. If you have a hankering to share our findings, you're free to do so for noncommercial purposes. Be sure not to foul out, though – link back to this page so that our contributors get the credit they deserve.