What we can learn from Kyrie Irving
Kyrie is back, so let's discuss his absence.
Good morning. Great morning? Great morning. Let’s basketball.
Kyrie Irving is expected to play on Wednesday. Kyrie addressed his absence at length on Tuesday on a media call.
You may remember that Kyrie previously indicated he wouldn’t be participating in media obligations this season. I’m glad he’s changed his mind, because this was a heartening, illuminating session that put Kyrie’s role as a basketball star for the Brooklyn Nets in perspective with his own humanity and his personal goals. While he didn’t get into specifics about the particular personal and family issues that pulled him away from the Nets — frankly, the specifics are no one’s business — he did indicate, at least according to my read of the comments, that he had placed a lot of pressure on himself to do everything he wants to do, and now he’s resolved that by bringing others into the fold.
The most affecting moment was honestly one in which Kyrie didn’t say anything at all, when Kristian Winfield from the New York Daily News (my old SB Nation colleague) asked if everything was OK and Kyrie simply nodded.
Nekias Duncan and Steve Jones Jr. have a new podcast called The Dunker Spot, and they talked about the exhausting nature of the Kyrie discourse earlier this week. (I highly recommend the podcast, not just this episode.) Something Duncan said stuck with me: there’s very little nuance in the Kyrie discourse. But the circumstances are extremely nuanced. That’s a tough combination to navigate, especially when so much of the discourse is wrapped up in pithy lines and sports entertainment media.
You know how when an athlete goes through some tragedy, or has some personal or family issues that seem difficult and we wonder out loud, “How are they able to keep playing through it? How hard is it to strap on the sneakers/cleats/skates/spikes and perform in front of millions of viewers given everything on their shoulders?” We say it in awe and in sincerity, because at least some of us can’t fathom it. (I consider myself a capable compartmentalizer, and I can’t fathom it.)
It seems very weird to effusively praise athletes when they can compartmentalize difficult off-court situations but then criticize them when they, like Kyrie has, step away to take care of those situations and themselves. We rightly applaud athletes who acknowledge mental health battles and the need for personal balance and self care. But then when Kyrie steps away for personal reasons, however vague that explanation is, the tone turns aggressive and accusatory. It seems hypocritical and makes support for that which we collectively claim to value seem real shallow.
At the same time, communication is exceptionally important in navigating these situations, and Nets coach Steve Nash seemed blindsided by Kyrie’s initial absence and out of the loop on his possible return until a few days ago. Disappearing, falling off the map, not showing up to obligations without warning: those heighten concern levels and, when you’re a well-known public figure like Kyrie, bloom a thousand rumors. (We had prominent reporters irresponsibly hypothesizing about whether Irving might be out for the season or retire last week. Irresponsible hypotheses should be avoided, but might be unavoidable with the sheer amount of content the NBA produces at this point.) Kyrie, simply by communicating with Nash or the Nets organization, could have headed much of this off: “I have some personal and family issues to address, and I hope to back as soon as I can.” Kyrie’s job is not normal, so comparing his no-call, no-show to what would happen to any of us if we no-call, no-showed is fruitless. But even in Kyrie’s abnormal job, communicating about your plans is expected and has a purpose. It is irresponsible to ghost the team. Irving fell short here, and I hope that if the Nets — Nash, GM Sean Marks, his teammates — are disappointed in how that played out, they let him know and work through it in case Kyrie needs to step away again.
But really, this is mostly a workplace issue for the Nets and Kyrie to navigate. Irving does reference the fans, and actually apologizes to them in his Tuesday comments. I have mixed feelings about what individual athletes owe fans as opposed to what the league and teams owe — there’s another nuanced conversation best addressed on its own — but Kyrie understands that he fell short in keeping them apprised of what was happening (at least according to how I understood the comments). That acknowledgement feels important in the Kyrie discourse.
Some will want to accuse Kyrie of talking in circles or being fake-deep. Some will suggest anyone digging through the gray area of this situation is coddling a millionaire athlete. Some will say that any critique of Kyrie’s actions is cold and selfish. But there truly is a lot of room for nuance and exploration here, and I hope we as a community of basketball fans take advantage of it to learn more about our neighbors and ourselves.
Pelicans 102, Jazz 118 — The Eric Bledsoe-Lonzo Ball backcourt does not appear to be working, at least in this form. But benching either Bledsoe or Ball seems like a recipe for drama when the replacement options are young, unproven Nickeil Alexander-Walker and older J.J. Redick. You almost wish the Pels could press fast-forward on Kira Lewis’ development and slot him in! New Orleans is now 5-8.
Meanwhile, the Jazz are up to six straight wins. Their top eight is healthy and really, really solid. What wasn’t working with Mike Conley in the starting five last season is working this year. What wasn’t working with Joe Ingles coming off the bench last season is working this year. It’s a credit to the front office for sticking with it (just bringing in Derrick Favors this offseason) and Quin Snyder for having faith in the veteran (Conley) they bet the house on 18 months ago.
This pass from Donovan Mitchell! Looking like Robinson Cano turning two …
We have 10 games still on the schedule for Wednesday after one COVID-19 postponement (Wizards-Hornets). This includes a big ESPN doubleheader and two LP Cup games (the latter of which are denoted with a 🏆. All times are Eastern and games are on League Pass unless otherwise noted.
Nets at Cavaliers, 7
Mavericks at Pacers, 7
Celtics at Sixers, 7, ESPN
Pistons at Hawks, 7:30 🏆
Heat at Raptors, 7:30
Magic at Timberwolves, 8 🏆
Suns at Rockets, 9:30, ESPN
Spurs at Warriors, 10
Kings at Clippers, 10
Grizzlies at Blazers, 10
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the Atlanta Dream are on the verge of being sold. You may remember that former U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler co-owns the team and Dream players (among others from throughout the WNBA) rallied around her opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock in the 2020 election. Loeffler had previously insisted she would not be pressured to sell the team. Meanwhile, Rev. Warnock will be sworn in as Georgia’s first Black U.S. Senator later today. Here’s to hoping the team remains in Atlanta.
Adam Silver said Tuesday that NBA players may be asked to publicly receive the COVID-19 vaccine as public health officials work to break down resistance to vaccinations, particularly from the Black community. (A rational resistance based on history.) It’s easy to look at this cynically as a ploy for the NBA to get its players inoculated and available — on some level, the NBA wouldn’t be discussing it if it didn’t have a material, financial upside, which it does. But something can be beneficial to a private enterprise and beneficial to the wider society at the same time. It’s possible. But it needs to be well thought-out, transparent and evenly administered.
Michael Pina on the evolution of C.J. McCollum. Unfortunately, McCollum is now out four weeks with a broken foot.
The richest athlete of all time did nothing with his wealth and vanished into history. Sounds great, actually.
Party on, dudes. And be excellent to each other.