Three decades ago, former NBA player and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley proclaimed in a Nike ad that he was not a role model. Barkley’s contention was kids should be taught to emulate their parents, not athletes or celebrities. In the campaign Barkley said, “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
We are often reminded Barkley was right. Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets’ All-Star guard, in the second year of a four-year, $141 million contract with the franchise, is not only a major competitor on the court, he also competes hard in the what not to say category. Often the source of controversial statements, Irving’s latest questionable remarks were delivered via a written release issued last week.
Irving began by offering heartfelt concern. “COVID-19 has impacted us all in many ways,” read the announcement, “so I pray for the safety and health of our communities domestically and abroad. I am truly excited for the season to start and I am also praying that everyone remains safe and healthy throughout this journey.”
Irving then gets to the crux of his message. “Instead of speaking to the media today, I am issuing this statement to ensure that my message is properly conveyed,” he explained. “I am committed to show up to work every day, ready to have fun, compete, perform, and win championships alongside my teammates and colleagues in the Nets organization. My goal this season is to let my work on and off the court speak for itself.”
Irving’s remarks about his work off the court are what has raised eyebrows. There’s an NBA rule regarding players being available at specific times to speak to the media. The NBA is very mindful of the optics of its players being accessible. Irving, the elected vice president of the NBA Players’ Association, issuing a statement instead of making himself available during last week’s league’s Media Week, violates league policy. It also seemingly contradicts his position as a leader among the players.
In the past Irving has asserted “the earth is flat” and promised, “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here,” to Boston Celtics fans before bolting to the Nets. None of Irving’s statements makes him a bad person. It’s his right to believe the world is structured in the way he imagines it to be, and it’s his right to change his mind, not re-signing with a team to which he publicly committed.
It’s also his right to not talk to members of the press if he so chooses. He’s more than financially capable of paying any fines levied against him. Admittedly, “Some of the [media’s] questions are dumb and repetitive,” as one player once said to me. But Irving’s reluctance to verbally engage the press diminishes his credibility.
By maintaining his words are being misconstrued, Irving is not taking accountability. Even with all of this, if he and Kevin Durant lead Brooklyn to a championship, it will excuse all of this, and make it just another footnote.