On Monday night, LeBron James was presumably watching Kyrie Irving cook the Atlanta Hawks to the tune of 35 points and 14-of-22 shooting. Boston won their ninth straight game, and minutes afterwards, James posted an Arthur meme. It sure seemed like he was sad (mad? frustrated? something) that Irving was doing this for another team now, not his own.
James has done this MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANY times before. When the NBA inducts James into the Hall of Fame, they should induct his social media presence separately. It’s just as legendary as his on-court game. I’m constantly in awe of it.
The question is whether it works. We went through the most prominent examples of James subtweeting or calling out people or peoples on Twitter, and did our best to figure out if it had the desired effect. (We’re definitely aware we didn’t catch them all, but there was only so many words my editor would let me devote to premiere investigative journalism like this.)
Feb. 7, 2015: LeBron wants Kevin Love to FIT-IN
Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 8, 2015
After James tweeted this, it was almost immediately assumed that he was referring to Love, something that James confirmed two days later. One reason James might have felt comfortable confirming his subtweet is that it did give Love a temporary boost. On Feb. 8, Love dropped 32 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-18 shooting against the Lakers.
However, it wasn’t a lasting effect. Love averaged 15.5 points and 8.3 rebounds on 46 percent shooting in 25 games after the tweet, which is actually worse than the 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds on 42.2 percent shooting he averaged in his first 50 games. He also dealt with a couple injuries late in the regular season, and in the playoffs, Love was injured during Game 4 of the first round and missed the rest of the postseason.
THE VERDICT: Since we care about the bigger picture, it did not help.
March 1, 2015: LeBron posted a sad selfie after a loss
On March 1, James and the Cavaliers lost to the Houston Rockets by two points in overtime. It was a strange game — James scored 37 points, but it took him 35 shots. Houston was a better team-record wise than Cleveland, and the loss dropped the team to 37-24 — still pretty damn good. But James wasn’t happy, despite his nice denim shirt, and he posted a picture proving it.
Cleveland walloped the Boston Celtics the very next game, 110-79, and beat an Eastern Conference rival, the Raptors, in the game after that. The Cavaliers finished the season with a 16-5 record. That’s a 62-win pace, much better than the 53-29 record they ended up with that season.
THE VERDICT: Yes, it helped the Cavaliers finish strong, although they’d eventually lose in the Finals to the Warriors with a depleted roster.
March 22, 2016: LeBron unfollows the Cavs on Twitter
James was set to become a free agent that summer, and everyone was even more attuned to James than usual. David Blatt had been fired as head coach earlier that year, and that was attributed in part to James. On March 21, though, the Cavaliers had beat the Nuggets to win their 50th game. They were playing great!
... and then James unfollowed the Cavaliers on social media.
James said it was in preparation for his annual social media hiatus conducted during every postseason, and we never got any explanation other than that. Maybe he just got tired of seeing their tweets.
THE VERDICT: Yes. The Cavaliers have never won a championship while James follows @cavs, just saying.
Jan. 24, 2017: LeBron asks for a playmaker
I not mad or upset at management cause Griff and staff have done a great job, I just feel we still need to improve in order to repeat...— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 24, 2017
This wasn’t a subtweet — James just said it straight up! — but the Cavaliers did sign Deron Williams in late February.
THE VERDICT: Cleveland’s front office heard him loud and clear.
Jan. 31, 2017: LeBron tweets lyrics, but we don’t know it
Sometimes I gotta just make sure that i didn't lose you. Did I?!?! Did I?!?! Did I Lose You— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 31, 2017
Charles Barkley criticized James one time too many, and he finally snapped. “I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James told ESPN. Presumably, this tweet was about Barkley.
It probably was, but a couple months later, we learned that it doubled as Drake lyrics from a song on an album that hadn’t been released yet, specifically “Lose You” off Drake’s More Life, released March 18, 2017. James and Drake are buddies, and presumably he got an early listen.
THE VERDICT: The ESPN story had gone up 20 minutes before this tweet. James was just rubbing in his victory with this one.
Nov. 6, 2017: LeBron is sad Kyrie Irving left him
It’s not just Irving alone, of course. James is presumably frustrated that his team is 4-6 with some really terrible, awful losses. But it doesn’t help that Irving is thriving with another team. It’s the same feeling you get when your ex looks incredibly happy with his or her new partner.
THE VERDICT: I guess we’ll wait and see.