The Brooklyn Nets suspended their talented, yet mercurial star point guard Kyrie Irving last Thursday, Nov 3, for conduct detrimental to the team. The suspension – for at least 5 games – stemmed from Kyrie’s tweeting a link to anti-semitic hate material. Despite the Nets’ efforts to downplay the issue, and efforts to help Kyrie understand the harm and danger of his action, the Nets’ unpredictable star continued to show acts of belligerence by refusing to apologize for the wrongful deed. This failure to disavow anti-semitism prompted the Nets to take the drastic step of suspending their star.
The following day, Friday Nov 4, the Nets played without Kyrie for the first time; winning an ‘away’ game against the Washington Wizards by a proverbial mile 128-86. The big win was a great source of relief and euphoria for a team hounded by so much off-the-court drama. The win also showed that minus the distractions, this team has what it takes to seriously compete with the rest of the league. A day later, on Saturday Nov 5, the Nets came from behind to beat the Charlotte Hornets 98-94, demonstrating a resiliency and a strong defensive mindset that seemed lacking in previous games. They are now 2-0 without Kyrie, and 2-6 with Kyrie.
This most recent Kyrie fiasco started out with a simple post providing a link to the controversial documentary: “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up, Black America”, which contained highly-disturbing hate material. His attention called for promoting the hate-filled piece, Kyrie refused to back down. Despite the coaching from the team’s management, and a magnanimous donation of $500K to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Kyrie remained stubborn, even refusing to answer owner Joe Tsai’s text messages. Given a clear opportunity to talk to the media and show remorse, he refused to categorically apologize. Instead, he simply tried to divert the attention to the plight of the Black community in the hope of gaining a sympathetic ear. Given Kyrie’s unrepentant stand and perceived insincerity, the ADL returned the Nets’ $500K donation on his behalf. The Nets management had no other recourse but to distance itself from Kyrie and his irresponsible statements. Hours after the suspension was made public, Kyrie released a statement of apology on social media. Whether or not that apology is enough, or sincere, will be known in the coming days. How his answers to the burning issue is perceived will definitely affect his playing days ahead.
Kyrie has always been a fan-favorite due to his razzle-dazzle style of play, although his recent seasons have not provided much success. After a triumphant championship season with Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, Kyrie left for the Boston Celtics in 2017 for the reason that he wanted to be the focal point of his own team.
Walking away from under the coattails of Lebron, Kyrie tried to bring the Celtics a title. However, with Kyrie injured in the 2018 playoffs, it was the young guns of the team led by Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart who would bring the team to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, before succumbing to Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a grueling 7-game series.
Ironically in 2019, with Kyrie healthy and back to playing the lead role in the team, the Celtics would only reach the Eastern Conference semi-finals, losing eventually to the Milwaukee Bucks 1-4. In the 2020 playoffs after Kyrie left, the Celtics once again showed that they were a far better team without him, as they reached the Conference finals once again before bowing out to the Miami Heat 3-4.
Kyrie signed up with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019, collaborating with Kevin Durant to bring a championship to the city. KD however was coming off an injury, hence Kyrie was left to fend for the team that year. During the COVID – shortened 2019-2020 season, Kyrie opted not to play in the Bubble Games, and urged players to push for a ‘Bubble’ strike amid the racial tensions at that time. Nonetheless, the Bubble Games pushed through, and despite KD’s and Kyrie’s absence in the Bubble, an overachieving Nets performed credibly, reaching the playoffs with a depleted no-name roster on hand.
The following 2020-21season, Kyrie took some time off when James Harden joined the team. Some speculated that concerns over social justice and politics triggered Kyrie’s decision to take a sabbatical. Insiders however say that Kyrie was not too happy with the trade to bring in Harden, as he felt he would be relegated to being the 3rd star in the pecking order. It would take weeks before Kyrie was convinced to simmer down and play. (Pls read: The Brooklyn Nets: Boom or Bust?)
KD, Kyrie and Harden would form a formidable trio that would almost bring the team to the top. Unfortunately, both Harden and Kyrie would go down to injuries in the playoffs. The Nets would lose to the eventual 2021 NBA champs Milwaukee Bucks 4-3, despite initially dominating their series 0-2. Clearly, the Nets could have been the NBA’s best if not for the two devastating injuries that hit the team in the playoffs.
Last year, the team was once again favored to reach the top. However, Kyrie opted not to take the vaccine, making him ineligible to play in half of the team’s games. With Kyrie’s limited playing time, plus injuries to KD and Harden – injuries stemming from prolonged minutes due to Kyrie’s absence, it was inevitable that the team’s results would suffer. Fed up with Kyrie’s antics, Harden would request to be traded out of Brooklyn. (Pls read: The Brooklyn Nets: The NBA’s Ex-Future Champs?) This would result to the Nets being bundled out by the Boston Celtics on the very first round of the playoffs. The Nets would have that dubious distinction of being the only team swept 4-0 in the opening series.
This year, Kyrie is once again in the center of everyone’s attention. This latest episode – highlighting a tacit refusal to recognize the hate material he posted in social media – has taken away the Nets’ focus on the game once again. Just fresh from the drama featuring the ouster of head coach Steve Nash, the Nets must now deal with this Kyrie caper.
On top of all this, records will show that Kyrie has not played a season where he has not missed a minimum of 10 games. An interesting stat in his career is that he has missed nearly 30% of his games due to an assortment of reasons: from injuries, to his refusal to get vaccinated, to voluntary absences on account of such flimsy excuses as a birthday bash, racial trauma, etc.
The thing is: Kyrie seems to attract much controversy and intrigue. These issues he brings to the hardcourt have been big distractions and major causes for concern. He talks of too many conspiracy theories in the past, and have taken an interest in many non-basketball related advocacies. His statement on ‘not needing a coach’, his verbalizing a desire to move out and join Lebron in LA, his claim that the world is flat, his proud statement about having read the Oxford Dictionary; these are just some of the crazy quotes and situations that make playing and working with him feel weird and difficult.
This is not to say that Kyrie is not a good man. Kyrie has so much goodness in his heart. You see that in the number of social causes he has supported, such as the KAI Family Foundation. But the more he raises issues that he cannot support eloquently, the more he loses his credibility. He must learn to study his advocacies more closely, lest he embarrass himself and the people he claims to represent. He is a talented person. With a lot of followers in social media. He needs to understand that he has a responsibility to guide these people properly. Otherwise it becomes a case of the blind leading the blind.
That being said, will the Nets have the patience to keep their unpredictable star? Or will the Nets be better off trading Kyrie and simply rebooting? What other advocacies will Kyrie be espousing to rally his ‘people’? When will the Kyrie powder keg blow up next? Finally, knowing how stubborn he can be, knowing his history of injuries and his advancing age (30 years old), and knowing his non-injury-related absences and his off-the-court demeanor, which team will want to take a gamble on him now?
Cover pic courtesy of Sports Illustrated. Other pics courtesy of MassLive.com, Silver Screen and Roll, Cleveland.com, Fear The Sword, NBC Sports, New York Times, LA Times, Fadeaway World, NJ.com ans Awful Announcing. For a closer look, just click on the pics.