From doodles to collabs: how @nba_paint found fans on Twitter
Now that the final seconds of the shot clock have ticked down on the 2022 NBA season, you’d think the illustrator behind the breakout success account @nba_paint might take a breath … but nothing could be farther from the truth. After all, the owner of the self-professed “most overrated account in this app” doesn’t just live react to basketball games and news with stick figure cartoons of meme-able moments and puns. At least, not anymore.
“I’ve always been an avid doodler, and I have an active Fantasy Basketball league group chat,” Mr. Paint himself says. “So I started doodling these cartoons and dropping them into our group chat. It got to the point where I would go looking for something I’d drawn before and not be able to find it, so I thought, ‘I could use Twitter like a catalog for these.’ And that’s really how it got started.”
The illustrator would tag the NBA teams and players he featured in his drawings, but he also tagged and responded to basketball fan accounts, specifically for players. He feels like Twitter was a natural fit for his content, because it’s his favorite platform personally and that fact really has to do with the conversations (especially in the sports world).
“Whenever something happens in the basketball world, it gets talked about first on Twitter,” Paint says. “Quote Tweeting and the ability to comment with photos was huge and that’s something no other platform has. Some of the more niche players have audiences that are pretty engaged, so when I interacted that way the growth came sort of accidentally.” And grown it has.
@nba_paint started in December of 2020 and, at time of publication, has over 170K followers. Now he has off-shoot accounts like @nhlpaint, @nflpaint, and @mlbpaint, and has even started selling merch and NFTs.
Once his audience started to grow, Paint decided to refine his style just a bit (cleaner designs and tailored more to the real-time moments) and use his background in marketing to observe trends on engagement and interactions.
“Once I hit about 1,000 followers, I started to focus on what was actively being talked about in the NBA community, so that my posts would contribute to the trending conversations,” Paint says. “But still, even if you were to ask me then, I don’t think I would’ve conceived of being where it is now.”
Other than having a large following, Paint has partnered with Twitter Sports for multiple takeovers, including during Super Bowl LVI and the NBA Finals in 2021. By engaging with the @TwitterSports handle during the live events, the organic nature of the conversation drove plenty of conversation for both parties. The nba_paint account had a 13% increase in its followers during the takeover and created plenty of conversation, both from fans and press.
“Paint set the bar for what a successful creator partnership could look like — he was collaborative, hilarious, smart, and, most importantly for us, really close to the conversation happening around the 2021 NBA Playoffs and Finals,” Giuliana Allegrotti, editorial lead for @TwitterSports says. “We used our Twitter Sports microphone to amplify what [Paint] was doing on that account, and he helped us create inroads in the NBA Twitter community because he was respected there.”
Overall, the partnership resulted in six custom headers for @TwitterSports, plus ten pieces of real-time content, and even a custom hoodie that was sent out as a limited drop to surprise and delight fans of the account. The momentum of the partnership carried forward as people received their hoodies and shared their unboxings on the timeline.
“It was a huge eye opener for me to partner with Twitter officially,” Paint says. “It showed the level that the account was getting to and the potential outreach it had. It opened up a barrier I didn’t even know was there and more partnerships and collaborations came from that.”
What was particularly important to him was to create content that felt authentic to his work and his audience, even within the partnerships. Twitter also hosted nba_paint (and, of course, nflpaint) in the Tweetsuite during the Super Bowl, which led to a real-time partnership during the big game. The official NFL account even changed their header to feature art from the account.
“A typical client and content creator dynamic can be pretty one dimensional, just a person hired to create one or two posts,” Paint says, “That can make it seem like there's not an active conversation going on. It’s important to make sure conversations feel natural.”
Allegrotti echoes his sentiment about finding the right fit for partnerships and then seeing the results in the communities’ reaction.
“One thing in particular that stuck out to me about that activation was how positively it was received,” she says. “We do a lot on @TwitterSports and the reaction is never an overwhelming “Wow! We love this!,“ but it was with the @nba_paint collab. We took a beloved figure from a community and loaned our Twitter powers to him in a fun and unique way that we’ve since seen replicated all over the timeline.”
So what kind of partnerships are a pipe dream for Mr. Paint?
“My biggest dream ever is to partner with the NBA. I would love to do something directly with them,” Paint says. “A jersey design is a super huge shoot-for-the-stars goal, or designing a sneaker would be really sick, working with a big sports brand.”
Even with big names like that in his sights, the artist still wins out when it comes to his future.
“I don’t take myself too seriously. I have the most fun when I’m coming up with ideas and they’re pretty on the nose and I can whip something up pretty quickly,” Paint says. “I’m most proud of work that people who actually know me in real life reach out and respond to. Like when my mom thinks something is funny, that’s when I feel like I got a gold star.”
It’s not just his mom, though — Paint’s baseline for success is hearing from the people who enjoy his work. He loves getting comments and messages from fans who share their work with their own friends and family. And those authentic interactions take place because he is having fun creating the content he’s posting.
“My biggest piece of advice for creating content and putting it out there is going to sound super corny and cheesy but just be true to yourself,” Paint says. “You don't want to create content that you just think people are going to like, but that you personally aren't super attached to. It could be fun to do that for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, but soon you'll be caught in this cycle of producing content that you don't like to produce, and that is just going to feel like a job.”