On the court, LeBron James tends to know his numbers, especially the statistics that measure his versatility and efficiency.
It turns out he was not aware, however, of an impending milestone off the floor. It's one that, along with his ranking atop the jersey sales charts, would seem to speak most directly to his popularity.
The number relates, after all, to the place he most directly interacts with the public.
That's the number of Twitter followers that, at its current rate, his @KingJames account will accumulate by the middle of this month.
As of midday Thursday, when the Miami Heat star took some questions from Bleacher Report on the subject, he was already at 9,932,337. Not a bad haul for an account that he opened on July 6, 2010, or just prior to announcing "The Decision."
That number put him third among athletes, behind international soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) and Kaka (@kaka)—as well as soccer club @fcbarcelona—and No. 65 overall. Some of the accounts he trails (such as @Twitter and @Twitter_es and @Facebook) aren't associated with a single person.
James ranks just behind @kanyewest and just ahead of two staples of entertainment and journalism: @mtv and @nytimes.
He's even inched ahead of @xtina (Christina Aguilera), @ricky_martin (Ricky Martin) and @iamdiddy (Diddy or Puff Daddy or Sean Combs or whatever the hip-hop mogul calls himself these days).
James, who had tweeted 3,532 times as of Thursday night, isn't as prolific as some on Twitter (@nikkiminaj has 24,820 tweets). However, he shares much more often than others; Beyonce Knowles (@Beyonce) has racked up 12.5 million followers and tweeted just eight times.
Unlike many of the accounts on the top 100 list, especially those associated with entertainers, James does not allow others access to tweet for him.
"That's who I am," James said. "I'm an authentic person, man. I wanted to be able to interact with my fans on a personal level. Obviously, I know I can't touch all my fans—and how amazing that would be if I could. But what social media has done, it's allowed me to do that. It's allowed me to keep them aware of what I'm doing, through Facebook, through Instagram and through Twitter. So I think it's pretty cool."
He has found that the best approach is "to be yourself." He added, "People will gravitate towards people who are themselves and don't hide behind anything, don't really care what people say."
Of course, there are risks to these mediums, and James has sometimes tweeted into trouble.
One example: On the January 2011 night that the Cleveland Cavaliers lost by 55 points to the Los Angeles Lakers, the @KingJames account referred to "karma." It was a missive James was asked to explain the next day. But other athletes, under far less scrutiny, have made bigger public relations errors.
James does take social stands—his posting of a team "hoodie" photo in support of Trayvon Martin was one notable circumstance—but most of his comments are uncontroversial.
Typically, his tweets have a positive tone, unless the Cowboys are struggling. Many are promotional, such as his recent push on behalf of the video game NBA 2K14. But even in those cases, he'll also often mix in something relatable, such as when he reminisced with his followers about the classic video game, Double Dribble.
And like his teammate Dwyane Wade, he's become hashtag happy, posting strings of words, sometimes powerful (#striveforgreatness or #blessed), sometimes not grammatical (#myfacetellitall), sometimes playful (#thishottubcoldasyouknowwhat) and sometimes revelatory but perhaps a bit lengthy (@powdertosscomingbacktoanarenanearyou) for others to whip around the Internet.
How deeply does he consider the consequences?
"Well, you got to think before you post stuff," James said. "For me, I don't really get into the craziness that Twitter offers. But you definitely need to think before you post certain things. You don't want to be too emotional about certain things. Because there are some people on Twitter that say bad things and are looking for a response. But for me, I use it as a way to be able to touch my fans and give them some insight in my life."
Yes, there's input as well as output, and James' mentions run the gamut from adoring to vile, with a larger share of the latter after he left Cleveland and before he won his first of two championships with Miami.
The mentions never stop, with the masses trying to get his attention. After games. During games, even though he's not available to answer. At any hour. From all over the world. During the playoffs when, the past two years, he's been on a social-media blackout. During the offseason, when he's posting Instagram photos of his vacations with his long-time girlfriend, and new wife, Savannah Brinson.
"I go through some them sometimes," James said. "Sometimes I even retweet them and answer questions. I haven't done a Q&A in a while, so I will probably do that pretty soon. Where I take 15 minutes and just start answering questions from people who follow me."
And even in that case, Twitter gives him the ability to choose which tweeters to spotlight as he provides his response as part of the retweet. That gives him a certain amount of control, but he still needs to show self-control.
"I've been in the national spotlight since I was 15, and I've been in the world spotlight since I was 17, 18," James said. "I've definitely gotten more comfortable with it every year."
And in three years, he's climbed the charts, now pushing eight figures.
Justin Bieber, with 45.4 million as of Thursday night, is first, though he has tweeted seven times more often than James to hit that number. Bieber averages about 1,900 followers per tweet, while James averages about 2,800.
That's the sort of efficiency James appreciates.
Can he catch the teen idol in total followers?
"No, I don't think I can get there," James said. "But we'll see."
Ethan Skolnick covers the Miami Heat for Bleacher Report.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!