Move over Doctor Who, the NBA has found the real ‘’Time Lord’’. Boston Celtics center, Robert Williams, has risen to social media and now basketball fame as his inability to keep track of the time has become the source of the most peculiar, but brilliant, internet-influenced branding success story.

Robert Williams (Boston Celtics) demonstrates the immense power of NBA branding and social media. [The 300s Podcast]

The emergence of the rookie

Rookie Robert Williams hosted a ‘block party’ in Boston last Friday night, as he came off of the bench to demoralize flying Hawk after flying Hawk in a five-swat performance at the Garden against Atlanta.

It has been an impressive run of games for Williams, who due to injuries and rotations has stepped into a larger role for the resurgent Celtics, who have been lacking a rim-protector of the seeming calibre that Williams has brought in his limited sample size.

In accompaniment to his exciting defensive cameos and transcendent athleticism, Williams has also rocketed into cult-hero status off of the court as sporting twitter and meme culture has latched onto its new basketball poster-boy for better or for worse.

Back when I was just Rob

It was the morning after the 2018 NBA Draft and a sleeping Robert Williams was still just your typical NBA rookie: 20 years old; the 27th pick in the draft out of Texas A&M; dreaming of bouncing, spinning, and dunking his way towards Celtics stardom.

The only problem with this? He wasn’t supposed to be asleep. The Celtic’s introductory conference call was taking place and Williams, supposedly operating in his native Louisiana’s time zone, was unmistakably absent.

This too was followed by a missed flight to Boston, and his subsequent failure to attend the start of the Celtics NBA summer league practices prior to the season — it had been a rocky beginning for the unprofessional professional.

 

Williams in action for the Celtics [Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports]

“The Time Lord” is born

Yet, little did Williams know that these same crippling slip-ups would set him upon the path of one of the most peculiar entrepreneurial success stories in recent sporting memory, as the cogs of the infamous meme-tank “Weird Celtics twitter” began to turn.

The outcome — Williams was to be known by the ironic but affectionate title of “The Time Lord”, a highlighting, but more so a graceful mockery of the oft-late time traveler, whose NBA career so far had been defined more by his T.A.R.D.I.N.E.S.S than his T.A.R.D.I.S.

Since then his Matrix-style blocks and dimension-shattering jumping ability, notably against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, has seen the legend of “The Time Lord” grow only stronger, in spite of mixed reviews by team General Manager Danny Ainge, and indeed Williams himself.

Crucially though, the nickname has the potential to reap lucrative rewards for Williams, as watch company Timex awaits his signature on a sponsorship deal should he so choose. This, then, outlines the huge magnitude of Twitter’s role in creating and indeed destroying an athlete’s brand.

Relatively speaking, there are players, even rookies, in the league far more deserving of a Timex sponsorship, or one similar, than Williams at this stage of his career. Nevertheless, just as Twitter has found its new “Time Lord”, the rookie has arrived as an NBA star — even if his play is nowhere near deserving of that accolade.

‘Brows, Beards, and NBA branding’

It was somewhat fitting that Williams’ explosive coming out party came at the expense of Anthony Davis, who too has benefited from Twitter’s ability to work as a gauge for the effectiveness of sports branding avenues.

Davis’s brand is centred around his conventionally unattractive monobrow. And despite frequently being told to cut it, some in more profane ways than others, AD has instead, since his rookie season, marketed himself around his “Fear The Brow” and “Raise The Brow” slogans and merchandise, in part due to the attention drawn to it through the medium of Twitter. James Harden too has similarly utilized his “Fear the Beard” branding to elevate his image beyond that of simply a top NBA shooting guard.

Anthony “The Brow” Davis (left) faces up against James “The Beard” Harden (right) [NBA.COM]
In short, the conversation and publicity driven by Twitter, positively or negatively, has played and will continue to play a huge role in the building and maintenance of the branding of professional athletes — to the point that it now supersedes the influence of the play on the court for all those but the hardened basketball fanatics.

Identity now rules all: whether that be a monobrow, a beard, or in Williams’ case being fashionably late. As sports and entertainment progressively approach that of a chaotic grey area, athletes must embrace their distinctions, regardless of their initial perception, and understand that in the new hyper-narrativized world of sports and social media the fans want more than simply three-pointers, slam-dunks, and cross-overs — they want ‘Brows’,  ‘Beards’, ‘Jumpmen’, and ‘Time Lords’.

Categories: Sport