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'Don't be fake news': A tale of two Aaron Gordons, trolling and online confusion

In which Aaron Gordon’s right to call himself Aaron Gordon is challenged, and he defends himself. (Screencap via @A_W_Gordon)

I can’t find the original tweet. Some things are lost to time, and sometimes, that is for the best. But I distinctly remember having a conversation like five years ago with a fellow sportswriter named Aaron Gordon in which we commiserated about having names in common with sports figures.

I am not the guy who was mean to Rudy. (In point of fact, Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine wasn’t, either.) But he did sports then, and I do sports now, and so I will never truly own my SEO, and also people always either ask me if I am related to the coach or joke about how I shouldn’t have been so mean to Rudy. This has happened, on average, about twice a week for most of my semi-professional life, and will probably happen for the rest of it.

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Back then, Aaron Gordon had not yet experienced this displacement. But there was a prep prospect on the rise, you see, and he was getting some buzz on the USA Basketball youth circuit. Soon, he’d become a top recruit at Arizona and the MVP of the FIBA U-19 World Championships. The time was coming, and the Aaron Gordon I knew definitely knew it.

Four years later, the sportswriting Aaron Gordon has progressed in his career — first as a freelancer at multiple spots, then as a staffer at VICE Sports, and now, in a pivot to stuff that actually matters, as a transit reporter for New York’s venerable Village Voice. The sports-playing Aaron Gordon has progressed in his career, too. After riding out a bumpy first few years in the NBA, he’s starting to look like a star in the making for an Orlando Magic team that, somewhat stunningly, sits at 6-2, alongside the Boston Celtics both atop the Eastern Conference and in the running for the NBA’s best record.

As the athlete Aaron Gordon hit another game-winner on Wednesday night to continue his ascent to a new level of public awareness, the writer Aaron Gordon found himself dealing with a rather absurd manifestation of its wake: a reader’s insistence that he change his name.

“Fam you really need to change your twitter name,” the Twitterer wrote in a direct message. “you’re just some political reporter don’t be ripping off athletes for view s [sic]

Gordon decided to play along, responding that he’s not ripping off anyone, and that Aaron Gordon is really his name. Your man @Money_Buckets23 responded, “You gotta legally change It man […] In order to become a legitimate twitter account you need to create your own personality, not simply but [sic] others for attention.”

When Gordon insisted that he created his Twitter account when the ballplayer was a sophomore in high school, and asked whether the inquirer was “saying I haven’t earned the right to exist because someone came along after me with the same name,” @Money_Buckets23 used the parlance of our time: “Just haven’t earned the views . Don’t be fake news.”

The interaction quickly went viral — as of 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, Gordon’s screencap tweet has been retweeted more than 45,000 times — thanks in part to it coming to the attention of the Magic’s Gordon, who had a laugh at the absurdity of it after helping knock off the Memphis Grizzlies:

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After the exchange blew up and the NBA player got involved, the inquirer reached back out with emojis and more confusion:

What made this whole thing so weird, and so difficult to parse, is that it could absolutely just be trolling. But in a time where basically everything that happens online (and, increasingly, offline) seems like trolling, it also absolutely feels like @Money_Buckets23 could honestly and truly have been making a wildly unreasonable demand in the guise of, I don’t know, defending a public figure?

The writer Gordon wasn’t sure what to think as it was going on. He’s still not sure.

When I reached out to him on Thursday — in part to say, “holy cow, the thing we talked about years ago has come true,” and in part to ask what the hell just happened — the writer Gordon told me that his official comment on the interaction was this GIF that had been made for him last night:

After a few re-watchings of that sweet, sweet dunk, I asked him if he had any more clarity on his weird Wednesday night. Some 14 hours later, he said his Twitter mentions showcase a roughly even split, with half of the respondents believing it to be an “epic troll” and half seeming to believe it’s cause to weep for the state of the world. (A cynic might say that there is a vanishingly thin line between the two.)

“To answer your question, though, I will refer to the line from the Coen Brothers’ ‘A Serious Man,'” Gordon told me. “‘Accept the mystery.'”

If the other option is trying to figure out what the hell is going on until your brain explodes, that seems like a reasonable option. Accept the mystery, keep your sense of humor … and maybe run that GIF back.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!