It’s been 10 days since news of Kyrie Irving’s reported trade demand hit the streets, and the soap opera has only gotten soapier since then. We’ve had Meek Mill–soundtracked LeBron Instagram Stories, Stephen A. Smith claiming LeBron would be tempted to "quote, beat [Kyrie’s] ass, end quote," Kyrie posting a Snapchat of himself singing the LeBron return-to-Cleveland anthem "I’m Coming Home," and not as a tribute, and finally, this weekend, Irving cackling along as Steph Curry was caught on video mocking LeBron’s workout videos. Ten days! That’s a lot of back-and-forth. It almost feels … orchestrated. Like maybe it is being done to pull a fast one on the media, to make a comment about our gossipy culture, or to just put all eyes on the Cavaliers, at a time when most people think they are in decline. So we asked a couple of staffers: Are you buying this? Is this whole LeBron-Kyrie drama a conspiracy?
Bill Simmons: Conspiracy Bill absolutely believes this exchange happened …
LeBron: I’m going to L.A. in a year. Try to get out now.
Kyrie: Wait, you don’t want to make one more run at beating the Warriors?
LeBron: We can’t beat those guys. Besides, we got our ring. Let’s come up with a fake beef. Have dinner with Kobe. Make sure someone sees you there. Demand a trade that same week. Two weeks later, I’ll have my media strategist leak the request and mention how blindsided I was. Let the internet take it from there — they’ll blow out all the alpha-dog bullshit. I’ll pretend to be hurt without saying much. You’ll take a bunch of harmlessly petty shots at me on social so it looks like things with us have soured. Gilbert will panic. They’ll trade you by August and you’ll have your own team.
Kyrie: My own team?
LeBron: Yeah. When you get there, leak some stuff about how you were tired of being my sidekick and you were tired of all the instability — four coaches, three GMs, trade rumors every summer, me going to L.A.
Kyrie: That’s actually true. [Stares at LeBron intently.] Like, all of it.
LeBron: Even better! Say you want a fresh start and you want the challenge of carrying a team.
Kyrie: What’s in it for you?
LeBron: I get to make one last Cleveland run. And next July, I can say I did what I came there to do, it’s time for a change, and it’s time to follow my dreams in L.A. and learn from Magic. After about a week, I will leak a story about how impossible Gilbert was and how we never got past the letter in 2010, but I sucked it up to bring Cleveland a championship and then the front office wasn’t smart enough to keep making the team better. Then I’ll release a shirtless Instagram video where I make weird faces and everything will be back to normal. Summer of 2019, we’ll make up and you’ll sign with L.A. and we’ll reunite.
Kyrie: You sure this won’t come out?
LeBron: It didn’t when D-Wade, Bosh and I decided to play together … in 2008.
[They both start laughing.]
LeBron: Just trust me. Remember, I have my own media strategist.
(FYI: Normal Bill doesn’t believe any of this. Remember — Kyrie HAS a ring. He doesn’t need LeBron anymore. Why not control his own destiny for once?)
Juliet Litman: No. Here’s what I know about Kyrie Irving: He’s an excellent on-ball guard who tries harder when his games are on national TV. He likes to upstage and embarrass his competition. Assists have never been a focal point of his game. He has a lovely singing voice.
None of those attributes signal a guy who is looking to get in on a long con with his soon-to-be-former teammate who berates him on the court during dead balls.
Shea Serrano: No. This is not a conspiracy of any order. This is simply the way that things are in the NBA in 2017 and, frankly, I could not be happier about it. These posts on Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and so on allow us to be the worst version of Sherlock Holmes that we can be. What did it mean when this player used this song as the background in his post? Who was this person subbing when he posted a picture of a trash can and captioned it, "Look familiar? lol." Why did this player post a picture of his family by a Christmas tree two days before Christmas and wish everyone a Merry Christmas? WAS HE CALLING LEBRON A BITCH? — I love it. I love that all of this stuff is happening. We’ll probably get to the point where players start colluding on their beefs and fights to drive whatever numbers it is they’re trying to drive, like how 50 and Kanye did when their albums were releasing at the same time those years ago. But I don’t believe we’re there yet. Kyrie vs. LeBron is real. Thank the lord.
Paolo Uggetti: Yes. Everything with LeBron is calculated, and until proved otherwise, I’m ready to stand by the belief that his "feud" with Kyrie is too. NBA players are smart; they know how much they can manipulate social media and thereby the general NBA public one tweet or 15-second video at a time. They also love messing with each other. This is probably more benign than it is malicious.
Micah Peters: Harrison Barnes got married over the weekend, which you may or may not have heard. What you likely have heard is that Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving were both there, making mistakes. The footage surfaced on Sunday: Curry was on the dance floor poking the wasp’s nest; Irving was close by, committing some light treason.
To be clear, when I say Curry made a "mistake," I mean it in the fun way. Like when there’s a good, maybe even strong possibility that there are no consequences waiting on the other side of a trespass at all, but it’s less sad to think there might be. The Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017 NBA Finals fairly easily, and there was nothing LeBron James could do about it, aside from shave his head and listen to angry rap music while working out harder.
This is not about that, or Steph, who endured a full calendar year of 3–1 jokes. He’s well within his right to get these jokes off, not only because of that, but because shorn of context, the idea of LeBron alone, in the gym, mean-mugging into his selfie camera is hilarious. Which brings us to Kyrie Irving’s mistake. (Note the absence of quotation marks.)
The rumblings around the league are that Kyrie wants out of Cleveland, which duly raises questions about gratefulness — why would he want to be traded away from the greatest basketball player on the planet, who brought him a championship? These can be answered pretty easily with stuff like "LeBron is 32 and going to Los Angeles in a year" and "the Cavs have had 48 GMs since 2012" or countered with more questions like "where was Dan Gilbert radicalized?" Dancing with your spouse’s archnemesis is not the way to save a marriage. That is, if saving it is the thing you’re trying to do. Either way, you gotta sleep with the shit.
Chris Ryan: I don’t think it’s a conspiracy — I genuinely think that Kyrie wants out of Cleveland and doesn’t want to play with LeBron anymore. But I also think that we are in for some Kyrie press conference or Player’s Tribune piece (it certainly won’t be an Uninterrupted video) about how quick we are to believe the lamestream fake news media and what we see on social networks and how "funny" it was to him that people cared so much, because if Kyrie Irving wasn’t a basketball player he would definitely start arguments on Twitter and then exit stage left by saying, "I am calm. I am actually laughing right now. Be well."
But seriously, though — this is real.