Kyrie Irving has never been afraid of taking the road less
The only problem, in this instance, is that nobody knows where
With a few strokes of a keyboard, Sean Marks and his Brooklyn
Nets took a hard-line stance as it relates
to the point guard. In the quest for a championship, Marks declared
that Brooklyn would not permit any of its players to serve in a
part-time capacity — superstars be damned.
In other words, with respect to Irving, the messaging was clear:
get vaccinated, or else.
Maybe betrayed is too strong of a word, but there’s no way that
Kyrie could have received the organization’s decision
Perhaps it’s ironic that Brooklyn would decide that it would
rather have none of Irving than half. Of Brooklyn’s Big Three, he
was the one whose joining the franchise was fairly and accurately
declared a homecoming.
Of the three, it is Irving who was first to take his talents to
Brooklyn, and it was he who was first to don the Nets' signature
black and white threads.
Now, he is another first — the first to be sent away.
When Irving signed with the Nets in 2019, nobody could’ve ever
predicted such an outcome. It was as unforeseen as it is
unfortunate, especially if you’re Kyrie or someone who’s
sympathetic to his cause.
Behind closed doors and away from the cameras and the
microphones, scores of NBA players have expressed reluctance to get
vaccinated against COVID-19. But over the course of the summer, it
became clear that in order to fully participate and have some
semblance of normalcy, the league’s players had a simple choice to
And for players who call New York City, Los Angeles and San
Francisco home, the stakes were even higher: full participation
with their teams depended on their willingness to get
In the end, for the players as a whole, the want to be full-time
members of their teams and to enjoy their lives as competitors in
the NBA won out. As a class, the league’s players understand that
their careers are relatively short, and that their window to earn
is, as well. Their future generations and familial legacies can be
enhanced with the stroke of a pen, and when painted into a corner,
invariably, they choose to perform. The decision to go into the
Orlando Bubble and continue competition after the murder of George
Floyd told us that.
All things considered, the league’s players tend to fall in
...Only not this time.
It’s become quite cliche these days for head coaches and team
leaders to refer to their teammates and one another as "brothers"
or as "family," but there’s some merit in those declarations. At
least during the season, most players spend more time with their
teammates than they do with their children. They’re married to
their coaching staff just as they are married to their spouses.
So whether they say it publicly or not, members of the Nets
organization probably look at Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated as
a stubborn refusal in which he’s choosing his personal principles
over the team’s collective goal. And if you disagree with that, ask
yourself why more 95% of the league’s players are vaccinated. Ask
yourself why Irving is the only member of either New York team who
And while there are other players around the league who have
opted against the vaccination, none of them are on a team that
enters the season as a title favorite; none face the possibility of
missing 43 of their team’s 82 regular season games.
Kyrie made a choice to stand his ground.
Marks had no choice but to do the same.
A descendent of Gregg Popovich’s tree, Marks saw firsthand the
kind of culture that can be built by competent organizational
leadership. True success in the NBA begins with standards and
equitable administration of a team’s ideals. Ask Erik Spoelstra,
Tom Thibodeau and the great Popovich, and they themselves will tell
you the same.
So when faced with the prospect of allowing Irving’s refusal to
get vaccinated hover over his team, Marks did what any leader in
his position would have — he made a tough choice.
As a basketball player and personality, Irving is as large as
they come. Whether he was available or not would impact not only
head coach Steve Nash’s game planning, but the team’s rotations.
Every player, including both Kevin Durant and James Harden, would
have had to have two separate instructional sets, catering for life
both with and without Irving.
Those situations obviously happen in pro sports, but unlike
other scenarios, whether Marks and Nash would subject their team to
that reality was completely within their control.
So in the end, it’s easy to understand why Marks told Irving to
stay away, just as it’s easy to understand how Kyrie could be put
As a player, Nash gave up sugar. Amar’e Stoudemire took wine
baths. Chris Paul decided to go vegan. For the most part, players
view their bodies as not only their temples, but their empires.
They spend their pre-professional days doing all they can to
develop and take care of their bodies. And although each team
employs its own set of medical professionals to support their
teams, most players maintain personal relationships with their own
set of medical and training professionals whom they trust.
Being told that they must receive a vaccination that a fair
amount of the public doesn’t fully trust is a foreign concept to
the league’s players. Irving, in particular, has previously been
outspoken in his desire to be, in his eyes, treated more like a
person and less like an asset.
From his vantage point, it’s not that difficult to understand
why he feels that his right to choose should be absolute.
It’s also not that difficult to see how, in asking him to stay
away, Irving feels like — despite what is said in the statement
released by the Nets — he’s not being supported by the franchise he
chose to call his own before either Durant or Harden had found
their way to Barclays.
Declaring itself to “support” Irving while also not permitting
him to play or practice with his team seems a bit hollow. By their
deeds, the Nets are forcing Kyrie’s hand in an attempt to get him
to take the vaccine. The team is looking out for its best
interests, while Kyrie is doing the same for his. Unfortunately, in
this instance, the interests of the parties just aren’t
Like everything else in life, there are two sides to the story.
Two ways to look at the situation.
Perhaps it’s fitting. Long a contrarian and one who isn’t afraid
of solitude on an island, Irving has fully embraced the path of
Two sides to the story. Two outcomes, two
As both a man and a competitor, Kyrie Irving has never avoided
the fork. He’s long made his choice to opt for the road less
In this case, though — despite their common dreams and desire —
it’s hard to see it leading back to Brooklyn.