On June 1, 15 minutes before game one of this year’s NBA Finals, Mostafa, a 25-year-old from Port Said, Egypt, woke up and rolled out of bed.
It was 2:45 a.m. and everyone else in his parents’ house was asleep. He would’ve preferred to be asleep, too, but thousands of people around the world were waiting on him.
Throughout this year’s NBA regular season and playoffs, Mostafa has been anonymously providing a live stream of every game for free on the subreddit /r/nbastreams under the user name /u/velocityraps. That’s over 1,000 games.
Mostafa’s feed is considered the gold standard among illegal streams. His stream comes without advertisements, has no noticeable delay, and is offered in a crisp 720p resolution. (Due to the illegal nature of the activity he’s involved in, we’re only using Mostafa’s first name.)
Just before tipoff, the 25-year-old posted a message — “Upvote if you like the Stream” — that quickly became the the highest rated comment in the thread.
“You are the Messiah,” one commenter wrote. “I'm naming my first-born after you,” said another.
“It’s illegal, but who cares,” Mostafa said over Skype. “If they want to stop me they have long way to go to catch me.”
Mostafa started streaming five years ago when he was studying at a university in Egypt. Now he’s become something of an internet folk hero. Fans on /r/nbastreams shower him with adoration and gratitude. “I'm a San Francisco native stuck in Nagasaki,” a commenter recently wrote to Mostafa. “Nothing, I mean nothing in terms of sports bars were open at 10AM...came back home depressed. Watched the last three quarters on my phone thanks to you...Much obliged, and much happier.”
“It’s illegal, but who cares.”
“It’s kind of like an addiction,” Mostafa told me. “Once you start [streaming], you can’t stop doing it.”
During the first game of the NBA Finals, Mostafa said his stream peaked at more than 275,000 page views. Instead of plastering his page with shady advertisements like most illegal streams, Mostafa stripped his site down to the bare minimum. Just a white page with a video player and a message at the top listing his Venmo and Bitcoin information for anyone who wants to donate. And donate, they do.
This year alone Mostafa said he made between $15,000 and $20,000 from streaming. “I can’t really explain it,” Mostafa said of the donations. “It’s mostly Americans.”
Mostafa said that for someone with his degree (mechanical engineering), he’d be lucky to find a job in Port Said that pays $150 a month.
“Sometimes I don't like what I'm doing,” Mostafa said. “This isn’t what I spent years studying for…[but] there’s nothing else to do to make money.”
The only expenses Mostafa incurs are what he spends on domain names and hosting fees. Mostafa explained that the method he uses to broadcast live games bypasses the encryption used by Neulion, the NBA’s online video provider. Once Mostafa or another streamer cracks Nuelion's encryption he can simply piggyback off of their infrastructure so that Neulion incurs all the bandwidth costs. And since viewers aren’t paying for it, Mostafa’s stream takes away potential revenue for the NBA. Mostafa did not respond to more specific questions about the technical aspects of his streaming operation.
Mostafa finds it unfair that a league that’s worth billions of dollars still charges up to $200 for NBA League Pass, the TV and streaming service that features every NBA game. “Sometimes it feels good making them lose some money,” Mostafa said.
Earlier this year a survey of 1,500 people by a British research firm found that 54 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds have watched an illegal stream of a live sport, and a third watch them regularly. For cord cutters who lack the disposable income to afford NBA League Pass, illegal streams make it possible for viewers to keep up with their favorite teams.
“Sometimes it feels good making them lose some money.”
Reddit, which boasts /r/nbastreams, /r/soccerstreams, /r/nflstreams, and /r/puckstreams, provides an index of illegal streams for every imaginable sporting event. I spoke to one of the moderators of /r/nbastreams to find out if the NBA or anyone has tried shutting them down. “No. And honestly, I doubt they would,” said Giovanni Voi (/u/GioVoi on Reddit). “If they have an issue with the streams, they've got to take the streamers head on.”
Mostafa said that a few months ago he received an email from Neulion demanding that he stop streaming, but hasn’t heard from them since. I asked him if he’s worried that someone from the NBA might come after him. “Here [in Egypt]?” he said before laughing to himself. “No.”
The NBA and Neulion had not responded to request for comment as of this writing.