I will not miss Kyrie Irving

OPINION: Irving's tenure in Brooklyn was chaotic and pathetic.

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets takes a looks on against the Milwaukee Bucks during their game at Barclays Center on January 18, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I am so disappointed by Kyrie Irving. For four seasons, he’s played at the Barclays Center, which is a short walk from my home in Brooklyn, so I got to see him play many times. On the court, he was astounding. The handles, the angles, the speed, the basketball IQ, the body control as he finished near the hoop — he was one of the most thrilling ballplayers I’ve ever seen. It was great to watch him play in New York City, the home of so many streetball legends, because Kyrie played like a streetballer. All that fast dribbling and faking and juking and hesitating and trickery and showmanship made him look like a local streetball player done good. According to the Netflix documentary “Untold: The Rise And Fall of AND1,” he was the apotheosis of the AND1 streetball style. 

I also appreciated, at first, how he seemed to have basketball in perspective. In his mind, it was one of the things he does, not the entirety of who he is, and he demanded the world see him that way. Other players seem so focused on basketball that they don’t feel comfortable speaking on issues beyond ball. Not Kyrie. He was a man of ideas, or so it seemed. Then he said he thought the Earth was flat. When the New York Times pressed him for an answer, he remained coy. Kyrie said, “Can you openly admit that you know the Earth is constitutionally round? Like, you know that for sure? Like, I don’t know. I was never trying to convince anyone that the world is flat. I’m not being an advocate for the world being completely flat. No, I don’t know. I really don’t. It’s fun to think about, though.”

It’s maddening to me to have people take ideas like whether the Earth is round and try to make them into an opportunity to show how they’re open to all ideas no matter where they come from and how they want people to just do their own research. Kyrie plays into both the “alternative facts” movement we see on the right as well as trolling culture that we see everywhere. He later apologized for saying the Earth was flat, but the damage was done — he was forever the guy who said the Earth was flat. There would always be a snicker attached to his name. The idea that the Earth is not round is not particularly dangerous, but the effort to destabilize the truth is actually destructive to society — in that NYTimes interview, the writer quotes a teacher who struggled to prove to her class that the Earth is round because the kids had heard Kyrie’s denial. A world where people argue over basic scientific truths is doomed to fail. Kyrie has said, “Our educational system is flawed,” but it seems like he’s right but he doesn’t realize that he’s one of the people that the educational system has failed. 

An unforgettable tweet floated around the internet after the superstar trio of Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden was assembled by Brooklyn: “The Nets have now acquired all three types of Brooklyn guy; a weirdly skinny guy, a guy with a huge beard, and a guy who’s obsessed with astrology and conspiracy theories.” That hit home because, yeah, it sounded like Brooklyn, but what it really represented was that many people were seeing the red flags. I ignored them. I remained hopeful. Everything was alright. Kyrie was just joking around, right? I mean, he had to be smart, right? He went to Duke! But Kyrie has shown, on many occasions, that he’s far too vulnerable to conspiracy theories. In 2022, on his Instagram page, he shared an old video of Alex Jones claiming the government purposely releases diseases, viruses and plagues.

We heard reports of Kyrie being moody and sometimes difficult to work with, but Brooklyn fans and Nets leadership looked the other way because it seemed like putting him, Durant and Harden together was unfair to the rest of the NBA. Who would have a chance against them? This was a no-brainer championship team, right? Sports fans can forgive almost anything if they think the team is going to win. Winning is the ultimate deodorant. 

But Kyrie couldn’t really be counted on to be in the lineup every day. In his four years in Brooklyn, he never played more than 54 regular season games in a season and twice he played less than 30 games. When you’re one of the stars of the team, you’ve got to make your teammates feel like they can rely on you. You’ll be the one taking the big shot when everyone else is nervous. You’ll be the one carrying them on your back when things get rough. But if you’re not there all the time, it’s hard to rely on you. Is Kyrie the sort of person you want to go into a sporting combat with? Sure, he might drop 30 points, but he also might be unavailable if a family member has a birthday party that he wants to attend. The uncertainty would kill me. 

His COVID position was highly disappointing. Yes, sure, he has the moral right to say no to the vaccine, but if you’re a very famous person who’s rejecting the vaccine in the midst of a national pandemic, it would be great if you could clearly explain why you’re saying no. He couldn’t. He said, “If you want to get vaccinated, I support you. If you choose not to get vaccinated, I support you. Do what you think is best for you.” In the midst of society battling a highly contagious virus, it was extremely destructive to have a non-scientist blithely encouraging people to do whatever they think they should do. Kyrie emboldened those who refused to listen to doctors. It was as if he wanted to be an icon for the refuseniks. 

His position on the film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” was also super disappointing. I don’t know if Kyrie is antisemitic, but he sure appeared antisemitic by sharing the film, which contains Holocaust denials, quotes from Hitler and claims that Jewish people worship Satan, and then refusing to back away from it in clear, simple language. He could’ve gotten out of that in the first moments of the scandal but instead decided to turn it into a linguistic debate about the meaning of the words “promote” and “antisemitic.” He acted like he had a right to share antisemitic work and could evade responsibility by saying, hey I didn’t direct it. He should not have shared it, and after he did, he should’ve disavowed it, but he’s the sort to share conspiracy theories and resist backing up off of them until he absolutely has to. I see a guy who thinks he’s smarter than he is. A guy who seems to revel in the modern ethos that to be a contrarian is to be smart (which is not true). I don’t understand him though he does remind me of another disappointing NYC sports legend.

In 1983, Darryl Strawberry joined the New York Mets and was immediately touted as someone who could become one of the greatest baseball players of all time. The expectations were sky high and the pressure was immense. Strawberry, of course, did not become one of the greatest baseball players of all time for many reasons, and I long wondered why until a 2001 story about him in the New York Times Magazine helped me understand. 

“[Strawberry] loved being so physically gifted but hated the expectations that came with those gifts, the feeling that he could not measure up no matter what. He loved New York and especially New York fans — God could not have picked a better place for me to play — but hated the extra attention that comes to New York ballplayers.”

Both Strawberry and Kyrie were extraordinary players who came to New York carrying massive expectations. Both seem to have sabotaged their own epic opportunities, each in his own way. Why? Perhaps because if they tried their hardest and failed that would be worse than anything.  

I will not miss Kyrie. I am drained from the chaos that he brought with him. I am worn out from his anti-intellectual shenanigans. And I’m sure that soon enough, fans in Dallas will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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