Which NBA Fan Bases Are the Most Toxic Online? An Analysis of NBA Subreddits
The hard court can inspire hard feelings, and the vitriol of NBA fans has produced considerable controversy in recent seasons. Some of the league's biggest stars, including Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook , have traded explicit barbs with savage hecklers – and received fines as a result.
Fan animosity is not new to professional basketball: 2004's "Malice at the Palace ," for example, saw players leap into the seats in pursuit of their taunters. But the NBA is reaching a crossroads regarding fan conduct, as more players call for measures to keep hecklers in check.
We decided to study which NBA fan bases are the most profane, both in urging on their teams and deriding rival players. To do so, we analyzed the fan subreddit for each NBA team, tracking the use of curse words and vulgar terms per 100 subscribers. Are your team's fans relatively tame, or are they among the most explicit? To see which fan bases claimed the top spots in our vulgarity rankings, keep reading.
With 52.7 profane words per 100 subreddit subscribers, Los Angeles Lakers faithful were the most explicit NBA fan base on Reddit. The fan base's profanity could reflect the team's recent difficulties : After an abysmal season that saw the storied franchise miss the playoffs, fans even took to Reddit to plan a protest outside the Staples Center. The third-most profane fan base, that of the Phoenix Suns, may also have been driven to vulgarity by their team's dismal performance .
Yet, successful teams also seemed to attract foul-mouthed fans: The Philadelphia 76ers, who made a respectable playoff run in 2019, had the second-most vulgar fans. Even the reigning NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors, ranked fourth overall for profanity (so much for Canadians' renown manners , eh?). Perhaps these fan bases used explicit terms in a celebratory fashion, asserting their dominance over rivals with triumphant trash talk.
By contrast, some teams' followers seemed positively puritanical. Fans of the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards, for example, used fewer than eight explicit words per 100 subscribers. As the Eastern Conference bottom dwellers , both teams have given their fans plenty of opportunities to use profanity. But perhaps devotees of struggling franchises are more or less resigned to suffer quietly: None of the five least profane fan bases saw their teams make the playoffs.
Foul Language by Fan Base
Across all NBA subreddits, F-bombs comprised 44% of all explicit terms employed. This curse word's prevalence may seem surprising, as many regard it as one of the most severe . The S-word was the only term used nearly as often, accounting for 30% of all vulgar words.
Still, fans of some teams had a particular propensity toward other profanity. Utah Jazz followers, for example, were disproportionately likely to use the term "hell" relative to NBA fans more generally. This finding could actually reflect Jazz fans' aversion to more intense curse words: A majority of Utah residents are Mormons, who take a dim view of vulgar language. Alternately, Jazz fans could just be a ruthless bunch: The team's fans have repeatedly come under fire for heckling rival teams.
Other fan bases embraced specific derogatory terms, such as Sixers devotees' affinity for the word "d-ck." Of course, these terms could be directed at opposing players: Philadelphia's Joel Embiid has a habit of feuding with other stars , and Sixers fans love to jeer his antagonists. Yet, many of the fans' barbs are probably aimed at their own roster. Denver fans, who liked to use the term "bastard," have been known to boo underperforming Nuggets players.
Top Team by Term
Which teams' fans used each obscene term most often? While we've already discussed a few fan bases' particular cursing patterns, some surprising leaders emerged for a few unkind words. The Brooklyn Nets, for example, had the top fan base for using the word "a--hole." While New Yorkers aren't exactly renown for their congeniality, it seems that Nets fans use this term even more than fans of their crosstown rivals, the Knicks.
Cavs fans were the top team for "crap," which might aptly describe their 19-63 record – especially following four straight NBA Finals appearances. Lakers fans ranked first for "damn," an understandable utterance after LeBron James' blockbuster arrival quickly turned disastrous .
Then there were the Boston Celtics faithful, who were unrivaled in dropping F-bombs. The Celtics have lately underwhelmed their die-hard fans, many of who have called for star Kyrie Irving to go elsewhere. In a city many consider the country's best for sports , anything short of true championship contention can prompt profane criticism.
Profane in the Postseason
When the postseason rolls around, which fan bases take an especially vulgar approach to rooting on their teams? Raptor's fans had, by far, the highest rate of profanity per 100 subreddit subscribers. In their unconstrained style, perhaps Toronto's followers are taking their lead from superfan Drake , whose sideline antics flaunt all standards of civility. Philly fans placed second in our playoff vulgarity rankings; apparently, the postseason brings the worst out of Sixers supporters. After a playoff loss to the Nets in April of 2019, the team was booed on its home court.
Conversely, some fan bases seemed to clean up their act for the postseason. Nets fans used just 2.5 profane words per 100 subreddit subscribers during the playoffs, a drastic reduction from their regular rate. Perhaps after three straight seasons with fewer than 30 wins, 2019's playoff appearance gave Brooklyn fans reason to bite their tongues. The only playoff team with better-behaved fans was the Indiana Pacers, whose followers cursed little despite an embarrassing first-round sweep by the Celtics.
Our findings suggest significant variation in the use of vulgar language: Curses and other derogatory terms are not universally common. Moreover, explicit posts don't necessarily indicate a frustrating season (just look at the followers of the triumphant Toronto Raptors). Rather, it seems clear that the use of foul language reflects a complex mix of factors, ranging from local slang to the behaviors of players and management. And while curses can be employed to bemoan a team's performance, they can also declare excitement and devotion.
Of course, fans choose how they express their disappointment or enthusiasm. Perhaps our findings will help you evaluate your own statements as a fan, whether you're writing online or sitting in the stands. Sure, a vulgar word or two won't be the end of the world. But part of the joy of following a team is celebrating (and commiserating) with others. If your profanity seems likely to alienate other fans, you may want to find another way to share your strong opinions.
We scraped 587,270 comments from all 30 NBA team-specific subreddits containing any of the following profanity: "f--k," "sh-t," "damn," "hell," "d--k," "b---h," "crap," "a--hole," "bastard," and "douche." We used PRAW and PSRAW to collect comments from Reddit's API. The comments analyzed were posted between Oct. 16, 2018, and Aug. 15, 2019. All posts were analyzed in Tableau.