I was resplendently hungover for my friend’s rehearsal dinner, so I smiled, pounded a couple glasses of club soda, and got out of there. I can’t get ripped three days in a row. But there were more heroic drinkers among us, maybe just one, a tall redhead whom I had been talking to the previous night about a girl he had a crush on in high school who does cam shows now—that dilemma makes me want to kill myself—and whom I had first met a few years previous, on a balcony where a passel of grown men were doing beer bongs. He told me a story about a time in college when the trucker speed he had been on for about thirty hours wore off, and he got a concussion when he blacked out, ragdolled, and bashed his head against the dance floor. Everything he said sounded like a joke and a hostile rant. Here was a magnificent jerk. I really liked him.
After I left, the redhead posted up at the bar with the groom’s father housing MGDs and at some point crossed that international drunkenness dateline where you need to get home immediately but lack the wherewithal to do so. He called a car, or thought he did, and assumed it had arrived instantaneously, stepping out of the venue and into the first Uber he spotted, which had been summoned by some other member of the wedding party, one of the bride’s friends who didn’t know this magnificent jerk, wouldn’t have been charmed by him if they did. The car traveled about thirty feet before the driver figured out what had happened. Exiting the vehicle with an indignance I like to think was a little bit actorly but might have just been pure drunken aggravation, the redhead hollered ZERO STARS!! and slammed the door shut.
We were supposed to show up for the wedding early to take pictures. He rolled in a couple hours late, wearing Ray-Bans and an orange and blue striped tie. When the bride’s sister’s fiancé tried to engage him with some college football small talk, he launched into a monologue that ended with him comparing Ohio State winning the national championship to the Nazis marching on Paris. I had to retire to the bathroom to laugh.
After the ceremony, a friend asked me what the hell the guy’s problem was. The thing you have to understand about Smazz, I said, is that we’re more or less the same person—we just process shame differently.
“Kyrie and I didn’t have the smoothest start,” Kevin Durant told Jackie MacMullan at the outset of last season. “He was coming off a championship, a long season, and he was a little in and out of it in Rio.” This was the Olympics in 2016, when Team USA’s basketball outfit was living together on a docked oceanliner, a press event and a vacation as much as anything else, occasionally stepping ashore to destroy Argentina or Serbia by 30 but mostly playing cards and studying the harbor. MacMullan pegs this as the point at which Durant and Kyrie’s friendship accelerated. They had known each other since Kyrie entered the league in 2011, having been introduced by a Nike marketing exec, but you discover things about each other, stuck on a boat together for several weeks, that you can’t in texts or twice-a-year dinners.
Kevin Durant publicly declared Kyrie Irving his best friend in December of 2018. He tossed it out in the middle of an interview with Shams Charania, while talking about watching tape of his three favorite players: Michael, Kobe, and his buddy. “Kyrie is younger than me, and that’s one of my best friends, so I watch his stuff.” There’s a covetousness in the way Durant describes Kyrie’s game. He’s always blanched at the prospect of being listed at seven foot, which he definitely is in shoes, and you get the impression he wishes he were considerably shorter. “I can’t do what MJ does. I can’t palm the ball. I wish. I can’t shoot the turnaround, pump-fake spin, half-spin fadeaway like Kobe. Or crossover like Kyrie. I can’t do it… I can [only] do my version, do it in my way.”
Much of the Kyrie-Durant Friendwatch coverage is derived from Durant quotes. You can find instances of Kyrie talking about their relationship, but Durant is the voluble one, noticeably needier and less sure of himself than his partner. He’s got a podcast, has done a handful of hours-long interviews with Bill Simmons, and cannot for his own sake stop reading Twitter replies or Instagram comments. Kyrie, with his preposition-laden speech and aggravating college freshman penchant for rejecting questions, clearly wants to be admired, but seems confident that he is. Durant, by contrast, radiates anxiety. He wants to be understood, and given how frequently he scrambles to correct the public record, even if it’s just a stray tweet, he clearly thinks people have the wrong idea about him.
Kyrie is his cool friend, his proof that he’s an interesting person. If this comes off as lame in its desperation, it is at least relatable. (Especially if you are a writer, and you are constantly, implicitly arguing that what you have to say is interesting.) What Durant fails to realize is most people roll their eyes at Kyrie’s high-flown attempts at communicating depth. He can’t tell the difference between Sartre and a guy who’s skimmed his Wikipedia page.
What this says about Durant is less important than what it does for him. The happiest period of his career was probably when he and Russell Westbrook were still young, the Thunder weren’t under intense pressure to win, and the organization contained the two of them in a media-insulated cocoon. Little of that experience can be replicated in Brooklyn, but Durant did an interview with the Mercury News in 2016 that is quietly illuminating, and hints at what he might find with the Nets that he hasn’t had in quite a while. On the subject of he and Russ drifting apart toward the end of his time with the Thunder: “my interest went this way, his went that way. He got married, I didn’t. He hung with his wife. What you want me to do?” Combined with his comments about never fitting in with the Warriors and his claims that he and Kyrie have been Facetiming for years, Durant’s desire becomes obvious. He wants someone to bond with. Preferably someone with a lot of spare time, because he’s got a lot of feelings to share. Kyrie’s flighty, Kyrie’s self-important, but he’s down to talk shop. Durant connects with him.
This, of course, has to translate to a solid working relationship as well. You can’t trace the shape of this ahead of time. You think you’ve got something, and then...
I ended that day in a cab with the the bride and groom in the early morning. They were headed downtown and my apartment was on the way. I know them both. I was around when they were falling in love, regularly slept on the couch of the first place they lived in together. I mostly know the redhead through stories; he is the type of person people have stories about. What I have received from these accounts is that he and I are alike. We are the Depressed Friend, someone you worry about and laugh at in roughly equal measure. When we met there was an unspoken recognition, like encountering a parallel self. Ah yes: there I am, wearing different clothes.
This is an insane thing to feel, considering how much of a mystery even our friends are, and perhaps the feeling is only on my end. Anyway, we haven’t spoken since the wedding. I hear he has a podcast now, that he’s drinking less. I don’t know. We’re friends of friends, not real friends. I’m content to go on hearing about him, running into each other every few years when other people bring us together. Certain notions you hold too strongly to ever put to the test. That is my own cowardice. Kyrie and Durant aren’t cowards, that’s for sure. They’ll soon find out what other things they are.