After Latest Report In Irving Saga, Is It Fair To Question Whether He Still Wants To Play In The NBA?
The Kyrie Irving saga gets weirder by the day.
Hours after the Nets issued a statement on Tuesday that their superstar point guard would effectively be banished from the team while unvaccinated, unable to participate in any practices or road games though allowable under NBA rules and the COVID-19 vaccine mandates under New York City’s Emergency Order 225, Irving’s camp attempted to one-up his employer with a leaked report.
If the report is accurate, I can only imagine how the conversation between Irving and General Manager Sean Marks went down when Irving confessed the reason he has refused to get the vaccine. Per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, it wasn’t because he is an anti-vaxxer; he's just upset that the vaccine mandates are costing people their jobs and, according to Charania’s source, “wants to be a voice for the voiceless.”
Irving (to Marks): I want to be the voice for the voiceless.
Marks (initially chuckling): No, really?
As others have noted, it’s hard to be a voice when you told the assembled on Nets Media Day that you in fact DIDN’T want to be a distraction and instead wanted your privacy respected as it relates to the vaccine. Since that initial meeting, Irving never further explained his case to the public until Tuesday’s leak.
If the true motivation for this new report was that Irving thought it would lessen the heat on him, he was sadly mistaken. The contradictions are too easy to point out. Vaccine mandates are legal and have been in effect in this country for over a century. As one reporter tweeted, Irving had to receive various vaccines in order to go to school, including the year he spent at Duke University.
Maybe Irving wasn’t pleased with the reaction to his initial stance, with conservatives like Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz who are against everything Irving stands for jumping into the fray in his defense for refusing the vaccine. So he tried going at it from a different angle.
In yesterday’s column, I laid out the financial impacts on Irving should the stalemate persist through the season, but maybe it’s time to delve further into one particular paragraph: Is it fair to question whether Irving still wants to play in the NBA?
We keep having to revisit that rumor last month from a FOX talking head where Irving’s agents leaked that Irving would retire from the league if Brooklyn traded him. Maybe that was part of the overall plan.
Look, no one should begrudge him if he’s really done with professional basketball. He’s had a sensational 10-year career, with seven All Star appearances and an NBA Championship, where he hit perhaps the most clutch shot of all time down the stretch for Cleveland in Game 7 at Golden State. He might be the most skilled player the league has ever seen, with handles and finishes that raise people out of their seats. He’s earned over $150 million and is destined for the Hall of Fame.
If Irving so chooses to continue to perform, he's still got it, going for the NBA’s 9th-ever 50/40/90 shooting split last season. However, if Irving doesn’t feel he has the mindset to continue with ALL that comes with being a professional athlete in the public eye, he deserves to be sent off with thunderous applause.
Just let us know. Every year, it seems like there’s an excuse why he doesn’t want to play. Injury absences are unavoidable and I’m not privy to medical reports that would suggest he milked any of them. But what about last season’s seven-game sabbatical where he was reportedly too distraught over the country’s political environment? The Nets were said to be supportive of Irving at the onset but that came to a halt when he reportedly was caught breaking COVID-19 protocols at a party.
In his final season with Boston before joining good friend Kevin Durant in Brooklyn as a free agent in the 2019 offseason, Irving admitted that his mind wasn’t in a good place due to the death of his grandfather. He has since talked about how he didn’t take the necessary steps then to deal with it properly and how much he learned from the experience that affected his performance and his relationships with his teammates, though it should be noted that he is still very well-regarded by the Celtic’s core players.
As he has been in the Brooklyn locker room. From my observations the past two years, Nets players, especially the younger ones, gravitated toward Irving. You could see the camaraderie still exists from the photos at Brooklyn’s “Practice at the Park” event on Saturday. As a community leader, Irving has similarly been at the head of the class, putting his money and his voice to work for causes that he deems just.
Yet something doesn’t add up. He wants to be silent on this vaccine refusal matter, which isn’t a “just” cause—in fact, if you look at the devastation the disease has wrought, it’s the opposite of what a society demands. It looks like an angle so he can get out of playing while still getting paid part of the approximately $34.9 million due under his contract.