Richard White, Derrick’s dad, aims to make Celtics Twitter a little less angsty

Richard White, Derrick’s dad, aims to make Celtics Twitter a little less angsty

Richard White grew up a die-hard Celtics fan in Boston. Then, his son, Derrick White, was traded to the Celtics, and his father became a pinnacle of the online community.

Richard, a self-proclaimed data nerd, is known for disseminating his son’s defensive metrics every morning following a Celtics game — and also for responding to fans’ outrage when the team performs poorly.

“I’m big on stats and data points, and so first, I just kind of got into putting out some of the different stats on the games,” Richard said. “Once Derrick got traded, and I was sort of in the Celtics community, there were other users that put out data points and cover certain other players, and I was like, ‘well, I’m always looking at Derrick’s defensive numbers’, so I just started putting his defensive numbers out there.”

Typically, it’s an excellent statline that highlights his son’s defensive prowess, but even on nights when Derrick struggles defensively, like Monday night against the Pacers, Richard shares the metrics in a succinct Tweet like clockwork.

“The main thing was just getting information out there that ordinary people don’t know,” Richard said. “So, maybe it becomes more mainstream going down the line, because you put it out there. Everybody knows the five major categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots. That’s easy. Everybody can see those. But they don’t see contests. They don’t see secondary assists. Those are the things I keep track of.”

Last year, White was named to the All-Defensive Second Team for the first time, after leading all guards in blocked and contested shots during the regular season. This year, he’s paired up with Jrue Holiday, a five-time All Defensive Team member and one of the most lockdown defenders in the league.

Richard coined the term ‘The Stock Exchange’ to describe the Celtics’ defensive-minded backcourt, and when his son blocks a shot or steals the ball (plays known as ‘stocks’), he’s known to immediately post a GIF celebrating the big defensive play.

Derrick White was drafted by the Spurs in 2017, and has been a defensive-minded player since the start of his NBA tenure. He started getting more recognition, however, after he was traded to the Celtics in February of 2022.

“Nothing resonated back there, because it was San Antonio,” Richard said. “It was a great experience, but Derrick’s not playing any differently than he did in San Antonio. It’s like real estate: location, location, location. Now all of a sudden, he’s a big deal because he plays for Boston, but he was doing the exact same thing and nobody ever paid attention.”

Richard’s mission to combat online negativity with fact-based analysis

Richard’s active online presence within the Celtics community began as a means to disseminate Derrick’s defensive stat lines, but he’s since evolved into a voice of reason on a platform that very often leans negative.

After losses, fans regularly trash star players, criticize the team and its style of play, and make sweeping generalizations about the team’s coaching philosophy and championship prospects.

Part of that is an inherent part of sports and fandom, but there’s a unique element of frustration from fans that have watched this Celtics team be excellent for years, but consistently fall short of the ultimate prize. In fact, no team in NBA history has appeared in more playoff games over a seven-season span without winning a championship.

“Sometimes, it gets kind of cantankerous out there,” Richard said.

Those that closely follow the Celtics — and immerse themselves within the fandom — know that certain jokes and tropes are incredibly overplayed.

Jaylen Brown, for example, has no left hand, have you heard? There are five Twitter accounts actually named Jaylen Brown’s left hand, and a clip of Brown turning the ball over is significantly more likely to go viral than a clip of him hitting his patented turnaround jump shot.

And Jrue Holiday has CTE, according to angry fans — that wildly offensive trope first originated within the Milwaukee Bucks fan base. For some reason, the very real, degenerative medical condition is one that Twitter users use to describe players when they make poor on-court decisions.

Negativity sells and sometimes, even in its most toxic and degrading forms.

“Social media is a different animal, now that X or Twitter or whatever is being monetized,” White said. “People are saying stuff because they’re getting paid. If you’re an honest basketball fan, some of the angst and stuff directed at players can’t be about the players. If you know basketball, you wouldn’t say nearly the amount of stuff that gets put out there.”

Richard is referring to Twitter’s Creator Program, a newly launched program that pays enrolled users according to their posts’ impressions and replies. Because of the way it is structured, the program incentivizes people to Tweet things that elicit emotions or controversy, and users across the platform have observed that negative Tweets can be a lot more profitable. While most fan accounts are not monetized, many of the larger ones stir up controversy in hopes of cashing out. Others do it for clout.

“It’s like high school. People are like ‘I’m going to say something’, and you have this group of people, and they laugh at it, so I think I’m cool,” White said. “And it just multiplies. You can see it from people’s Twitter handles.”

Richard named to me a couple of Twitter handles that are particularly prominent in the Celtics community that he finds particularly frustrating, accounts that hide their identities behind a catchphrase or image that seeks to undermine a particular person.

“That’s not who you are,” Richard said. “You’re trying to be funny. And maybe three years ago it was funny, but it’s not any longer. You keep running the same joke over and over again. It was good the first time, but it’s not anymore.”

He doesn’t think NBA players should be immune to criticism, but the discourse should be fact-based and objective, not emotionally charged. That’s why he does what he does.

“You can have an opinion and say, ‘Derrick, the other day, shot 2-9 from three,’” Richard said. “You can say that, and that’s fine! But it’s the personal attacks that kind of rub me the wrong way, so I try to combat those without being too heavy-handed. Sometimes I succeed and people like it, and sometimes, I might go overboard, but I try to limit those cases as best as possible.”

Derrick, known for his hustle plays and unselfish play, is not as frequently subject to fans’ wraths as most. A September poll at The Athletic found that White has become the fanbase’s second-favorite player, after Jayson Tatum.

Nevertheless, Richard can be found regularly replying to posts criticizing some of the more frequently-attacked players on the roster, like Jaylen Brown.

It’s all about defense for the Whites

When he’s not fending off trolls on Twitter, Richard is diving deep into the NBA’s defensive analytics and coming up with a game plan and milestones for his son.

“At the beginning of the year, I tell Derrick, ‘Here are your goals, based on how much playing time you get and where you were last year. You should try to be better from last year to this year,’” Richard said. “We have kind of a thing where we want to meet those goals — it’s enough of a challenge where if you do meet that goal, it’s going to really contribute to the success of the team.”

Prior to receiving his first-ever All-Defensive Team selection last Spring, Derrick acknowledged the award would be particularly special to his father.

“That’d be a pretty cool honor,” White said. “It’s a lot of hard work and effort. I’m not too focused on it, obviously. Probably would mean a lot, especially to my dad.”

This year, Derrick’s defensive dominance has continued. The Celtics have the second-best defense in the NBA, and White is often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s top guard. His father combs through his recent defensive data and sets targets accordingly.

Derrick isn’t as data-driven as his father, but as one of the league’s premier defenders, he’s receptive to the conversation.

“He doesn’t know where he currently stands on these different things, but at the end of the season, I’ll show him the breakdown on the spreadsheet,” Richard said. “He gets to laugh at it. He says that I’m a stat nerd.”

Indiana Pacers v Boston Celtics

Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Through it all, Richard never loses sight of the bigger picture

Richard said having his son playing in the NBA remains surreal — it’s something he’s grateful for every day.

“Every year, there’s 450 guaranteed contracts. He’s got one of them,” Richard said. “I’m grateful that he’s in the league, and that I get to watch him play on TV almost every other day. The pecking order is: do the Celtics have a game? Did Derrick get to play? Did they win?”

Just like his son, the most important thing for Richard is the game’s final outcome.

“The win is pretty much the thing,” he said. “It’s great if Derrick plays well, but if they win and he has a subpar game, the win is the thing. There’s no parade if he had one of those [Nikola] Jokic statlines and they lose. What good is that?”

As such, Richard wasn’t too bothered when his son was left off of ESPN’s Top-100 Players list, an exclusion that made headlines and spurred several teammates to question the legitimacy of such rankings.

“I looked at it to see if he was on there,” Richard said. “Then, when he wasn’t, I wasn’t shocked. He doesn’t have the name value and recognition because he came from San Antonio. He’s getting more now because he’s on the Celtics, but he’s still down in the pecking order. Every year, there’s new lottery picks and they come into the league already slotted in.”

For reference, rookies like Scoot Henderson (No. 78), Chet Holmgren (No. 73), and Victor Wembenyama (No. 47) were included in the Top-100 lists before they had ever played a game.

The lifelong Celtics fan predicts a championship for the 2023-24 team

Richard is confident that if this current Celtics group can remain healthy, they’ll win it all. He pointed out that the team’s starting five is putting up numbers comparable to the Nuggets’ starters last season, and that the team actually only has one loss this season (at Philadelphia on November 8th) when all five starters play.

“If the Celtics go in [to the playoffs] whole, there’s nobody I would fear them playing,” Richard said. “If they close a game with the starting five, they’re going to win 70% of the time. But, you’re not going to win all of them, and people are going to come unglued when they do lose.”

In the meantime, Richard will continue to do his part to make the online Celtics world a more rational place, particularly after losses. Given that he is a prominent player’s father, he can’t always say exactly what he wants.

“I just like to get people back on track about what’s actually going on on the court,” Richard White said. “Anybody can come out and say ‘oh, this team is terrible.’ But, they’re 15-5. I understand that every loss is worth four times every win. In their minds, they’re 15-20. If that were the case, I could understand some of the angst.”

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