Brooklyn Nets training camp opens next week, and Kyrie Irving simply couldn’t help himself.
As word of the NYC COVID-19 vaccine mandate being lifted for the private sector and student athletes came down on Tuesday, the unvaccinated Irving took to Twitter to continue being the “voice for the voiceless.” Activism on behalf of those less fortunate is essential to a functioning society, but it’s time Irving decides once and for all what he wants to be.
“If I can work and be unvaccinated, then all of my brothers and sisters who are also unvaccinated should be able to do the same, without being discriminated against, vilified, or fired.∞ ✌🏾
This enforced Vaccine/Pandemic is one the biggest violations of HUMAN RIGHTS in history.”
If I can work and be unvaccinated, then all of my brothers and sisters who are also unvaccinated should be able to do the same, without being discriminated against, vilified, or fired. ♾🤞🏾
This enforced Vaccine/Pandemic is one the biggest violations of HUMAN RIGHTS in history.
— Hélà (@KyrieIrving) September 20, 2022
As if the team didn’t have enough drama entering the season with teammate Kevin Durant’s failed power play to force his way out of town, while also calling for the general manager and head coach’s job, and Irving’s request for a contract extension that was rebuffed and his inability to find another team to trade for him. Now this and another social media post by Irving a few days ago featuring noted right-wing conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones will dominate Nets media day and the opening to the season.
If you’ve read any of my work here at The Shadow League, you know that I am pro-athlete almost exclusively. They are more than just players and have the right to use their platforms for causes they believe in. Even if I don’t agree with the cause. So this isn’t about Irving promoting conspiracy theories and propaganda I disagree with. This is about Irving and who he says he is and wants to be.
Throughout the history of sports many athletes have championed causes while performing on their chosen fields. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the late Bill Russell of NBA fame, the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the list goes on. Irving even has his peers to look to in LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Jaylen Brown.
All of these athletes, including Irving, are passionate about their causes and use their platforms to do more than raise awareness. They put their money where their mouths are and show a real level of commitment.
But the area where all those athletes past and present shine and Irving dims in comparison is their commitment to their teammates and the people in the locker room that depend on them.
When Irving signed in Brooklyn as a free agent in 2019 it was supposed to be the promise of a new era with Durant. We were to ignore what happened in Cleveland and Boston because Irving chose Brooklyn, he was “home” and with his best friend KD. This would be different.
Irving continued to be a pillar in the community through acts of service, many of which went unreported to his credit. But how was he of service to his teammates in Brooklyn?
Out of a possible 226 games Irving has played in only 103. That’s less than half. The 123 missed games were a combination of injury, unexcused PTO, and his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Maybe Irving thought the vaccine mandates didn’t make sense. Maybe he prefers holistic treatments. Maybe he distrusts the Nets medical and training staff. Or maybe he was doing it in “solidarity” with the NYC workers who were forced to get the vaccine or lose their jobs. Some, none, or all of that could be true.
Regardless, he put his needs and wishes above those of his teammates and the organization.
That’s the thing about team sports. If you decide that this is your chosen profession you will be rewarded handsomely if you are a star like Irving, but with those rewards there is a level of expectation. You are expected to be available for practice, games, media sessions, and team events.
If your goal is to win with your team, your individual wishes that conflict with the team’s goal need to be put to the side. Or they need to be fulfilled in a way that does not detract from the team. Abdul-Jabbar and Russell in the past and LeBron and Steph currently all found ways to advocate and be activists while still showing up for their respective teams and being of service to their teammates.
Why is this so difficult for Irving?
If Irving is doing the ultimate call-out of the NBA and its inherent hypocrisies by playing with the expectations placed on him for being a max player that would be a very calculated play. But I’m not giving Irving that level of credit.
This is a man who has earned $194 million from basketball alone. Add in his Nike, Pepsi and other endorsements we are at least at a quarter billion. If he is really about that life, just walk away from the money and go full-time activist as he was rumored to have said he would do when attempting to organize a player boycott ahead of the 2020 Bubble.
If he’s serious about the plight of others, and he has demonstrated that he is, but is unable to balance his duties as a contracted player he should walk away. Free his teammates from having to wonder if he’ll be available or having to answer questions about him. Free the organization from wondering if one of its most important employees will show up. Free himself from the burdens and expectations of playing NBA basketball and be who he wants to be.
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