The former NBA Champion and current ESPN analyst has reinvented himself on the popular social media platform with over a million followers in just a year.
After 17 seasons in the NBA — including a championship ring with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 — Richard Jefferson immediately took his talents to the broadcast desk, where his personality and humor shine as a host and analyst.
Jefferson prepped for a second career in media while still an active player, by launching the popular Road Trippin’ podcast during the 2017 season with his then-Cavs teammate Channing Frye and sideline reporter Allie Clifton. The trio is now well past 200 episodes together with no signs of slowing down.
But after three years on-air and calling games for YES Network, ESPN, FS1, and Pac-12 Network, among others, Jefferson felt the need to supplement his broadcast work with something to spark his personal brand development: social media.
For the most part — outside of his viral Snapchat content during the Cavs’ title run — Jefferson avoided social media during his playing days. As he began to share his humorous NBA takes on Twitter and Instagram as a broadcaster, Jefferson and his team at The Content Capital Group — an athlete-focused social media consultancy — saw TikTok as a potential game-changer for him during the 2021-22 NBA season.
“Officially transitioning to the media side of things, I knew I needed social media,” Jefferson told Boardroom. “My goal was to hit one million followers in one season — the content on there is so unique and organic and the users consume it so well. My only rule was that I wasn’t going to dance, but I broke that with my second TikTok.”
Content Capital advised Jefferson to bring his sarcastic humor that he shared on Instagram to the TikTok community, which did not have a strong NBA athlete voice at the time.
“The unique thing about working with Richard is his dedication and focus,” shared Karin Kildow, CEO of Content Capital. “Social is a game of consistency and Richard really embraced that when we launched him on TikTok. To reach his goal of hitting a million followers in one NBA season, we posted over 500 videos in less than 300 days. It was a team effort but working with an athlete that was up for the challenge and excited throughout the whole process is rare.”
Jefferson’s first step in TikTok dominance was understanding the platform, testing the tools at his disposal, and engaging authentically with the community. Once he devised a posting strategy and saw how quickly his profile could grow, it was a consistency game for him.
“I am so mad I wasn’t on TikTok sooner,” Jefferson added. “It’s such an amazing community — and that’s what makes it unique — there is the basketball community on there that connected with me immediately. I started doing duets because I didn’t know how to use TikTok at first, so I started answering questions with other users. It was so fun and the engagement was crazy.”
Jefferson was posting 1-2 TikToks per day and Content Capital was adding fuel to the fire with an additional 1-2 posts. They collectively tested new content and ultimately focused on building repeatable formats and interactions with fans that made it possible to post at such a rapid rate.
“The consistency is one of the hardest things everyone deals with,” Jefferson said. “It’s the unfair advantage that I have — I have the resources with Content Capital to outsource some of my consistency. A lot of my success is due to the fact that I have amazing resources that help me. That’s an important thing to talk about.”
But beyond the TikTok strategy and posting consistency, it was Jefferson’s self-deprecating humor that separated him from the pack. From joking about himself or his appearance to welcoming social media ridicule as an NBA Summer League official in July, he didn’t take himself too seriously as a traditional on-air personality might. His duets with other uses often poked fun at Jefferson, but made for engaging content and further connected him with the overall community.
“Richard is a perfect example for how an athlete can cultivate community on social the right way,” added Sebastian Arriagada, Co-Founder of Content Capital. “His social content is co-created by his viewers because he talks with fans versus just talking at them. People may not realize that Richard is just as much a playmaker off the court as he is on it, investing time and energy to take calculated risks by leaning into how social media and sports consumption is changing. In working with him, I’ve seen firsthand the evolution of how he’s quickly become a leading voice for the next generation of sports fans as one of the most followed on-air personalities on TikTok.”
“Part of my success on there is me just being myself,” Jefferson shared. “The one thing you can say is that I’m being vulnerable enough to show myself and that hasn’t always been the case. For the most part that’s who I was in the NBA locker room for 17 years. Media and other players knew about it, but the public didn’t see it because I’m a very private person. But now that the media space is my new locker room, I feel more comfortable being myself publicly. Anyone who has known me doesn’t think this is funny, that’s just what they’ve seen my whole life. It feels authentic to me — it doesn’t feel like work.”
While Jefferson continues to evolve as an on-air talent, his TikTok skills have made waves at ESPN. His show “NBA Today” has introduced a new segment this season where fans can submit questions via TikTok with Jefferson, host Malika Andrews, and additional talent Kendrick Perkins and Chiney Ogwumike answering live on-air. Jefferson believes this is a huge step in connecting the TikTok community even further to the NBA and basketball overall.
“There are so many people that follow me on TikTok that don’t even know that I’m on TV or am even a former NBA player,” Jefferson added. “If I continue to grow my brand on TikTok then we are able to continue to grow the show and reach so many new fans to hopefully grow the game of basketball in a different way than before.”
As the 2022-23 NBA season tips off, Jefferson’s TikTok growth and personal brand development have clearly led to new marketing opportunities, including recent inclusion in LeBron James’ new Nike campaign and a familiar role as a ref in the NBA’s Google Pixel commercial. Jefferson plans to “double down” on TikTok this season in hopes of continuing to entertain while also connecting new fans to the NBA and basketball overall.
Jefferson on TikTok at a glance:
- Followers: 1.1 million
- Likes: 38.5 million
- Views: Over 100 million
- Engagement rate: 14%
- Growth rate: 4%
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