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Facebook users like the NBA. A lot.

Mar 6, 2011, 1:59 PM EDT

NBA Facebook

The NBA gets it. Twitter, Facebook, not ripping down videos off of YouTube. The NBA has embraced both the Web and social media.

And that has put them light years ahead of the other major sports leagues in this arena. That was highlighted at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (and reported at TrueHoop, who killed it all weekend). Nick Grudin, who works for Facebook on the Media Partnerships team, broke out the numbers in a panel at the conference.

According to Grudin, NBA fans are most active on Facebook, and it’s not close, as 7.6 million fans “like” the NBA, compared to just 2.6 million for the NFL and less than a million for MLB. Facebook is the NBA’s No. 2 referral source for traffic, seeing nine times as much traffic as it did a year ago. The NBA embraced Facebook before the other leagues, and the league is reaping the benefits in traffic.

Team-wise it’s about what one would expect with the Lakers (6.2 million), Celtics (3.4), Heat (2.6) and Bulls (1.4) ahead of the pack.

The Lakers, Celtics and Heat have more Facebook likes than the NFL. That is the NFL. The 800-pound gorilla of American sports.

Why does this mater? Because as Grudin notes, being a fan is a shared, interactive experience. You want to talk with fellow fans about Derrick Rose’s last second shot, Blake Griffin’s dunk, a trade that your team should make, why the coach sucks, how Mike Bibby couldn’t guard you on the playground. Now, more and more people are doing that talking online through Facebook and the rest rather than in a bar.

Combine that with the younger demographics of the NBA than the other major sports — a group who embraces this online technology — and you have a perfect storm. One that could help the NBA grow its popularity over time.

Well, unless the lockout kills all that momentum.

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