Isiah Thomas, Kenny Anderson, Sherman Douglas have Kyrie Irving's back
Prior to the start of last season, Kyrie Irving called the media “pawns” and stated that it would be his preference if he didn’t speak to them at all, and it appears as though many are dedicated to holding a grudge for the rest of their days.
But did Kyrie Irving have a valid point? Were the members of the media who fall into that category the only ones offended by those comments? I personally didn’t take offense because I know he wasn’t talking about me. But as the saying goes, if the shoe fits...
Irving's words should have resulted in a lot of the media taking a hard and long look in the mirror instead of getting their notepads in a bunch (see what I did there).
A pawn is defined as “a person used by others for their own purposes.”
So from that standpoint, was Kyrie onto something? For instance, recall last year’s dramatic articles and commentary projecting disaster on the Brooklyn Nets in the preseason. A hypothetical (and eventual) combination of three of the game’s most gifted scorers led to the media assuming they'd be unwilling to share the ball. There were accusations that Kyrie would be uncoachable. There were reports claiming he no longer cared about the game of basketball and more of the like.
But didn’t all of that disappear as soon as the season started? Some members of the media were even calling for Kyrie to retire before the season even began.
Creating baseless gossip and chit-chat for ratings, clicks and shares is very pawn-like.
Isn't that the script that the media is following?
Look at the evidence — articles with “anonymous sources” claiming that the Nets are looking to move Kyrie, commentators drumming up baseless trade chatter and spreading rumors that Kevin Durant secretly wants Kyrie gone, reports that if Kyrie is traded he’ll retire, suggestions that a Ben Simmons swap is even in the realm of a possibility, etc.
Isn’t it interesting that so much of the noise seems to magically disappear as soon as he starts playing? I’m sure that will be the case again as soon as this season begins. That usually means the reports and commentary and “anonymous sources” never really had any substance in the first place, but were just more media noise that was manufactured to create chatter in the slow months tor ratings. Again, very pawn-like.
To weigh in on Kyrie Irving’s never-ending battle with the media, I asked NBA Hall-of-Famer, Detroit Pistons legend and television analyst Isiah Thomas for his thoughts on the matter.
“I respect the independence that Kyrie has shown throughout this entire process. Just like we [do] as professional athletes, we as human beings, we as fathers, husbands, brothers — sometimes we get it wrong. And at the same time, sometimes the media gets it wrong," Thomas told me. "And when the media gets called out on being wrong, their response is almost ‘How dare you?’
"Just like one side can be wrong, so can the other side. So, don’t jump on me when I’m wrong, but be quiet when you’re wrong. You received information about me, and what I am thinking and what my intentions are, and whoever told you that didn’t tell you correctly. Now, this is what I meant, this is my voice. This isn’t whatever source, this is my voice. So respect my voice, and that’s what Kyrie has been saying. And he has been very authentic in his voice."
It doesn’t sound like he took Kyrie’s “pawn” comment personally, does it?
Regarding the trade rumors surrounding the star point guard in Brooklyn, Thomas feels strongly that sending Kyrie elsewhere would be a mistake the Nets would regret.
“The LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavs that came back and beat the Golden State Warriors after they had a 73-9 season — and LeBron James was off the charts in every statistical category — but the Cleveland Cavs do not win the championship without Kyrie Irving on that team," Thomas said. "Put me down on record. The Brooklyn Nets with the team constructed the way it currently is, cannot, and will not, win the championship if he is not there. Period.”
Let’s be clear: Kyrie is special. If he is not beating you from the perimeter off the dribble, he is knifing through the paint whenever he chooses with an array of dribble moves, crossovers, stepbacks and finishing in traffic. He is “both-handed,” which in basketball terms equates to being ambidextrous. He can finish with his left or right hand regardless of the size of the shot-blocker or the number of people occupying the lane. His layup package is on a different planet.
But don’t take my word for it.
Allow legendary NBA point guard and New Jersey Nets fan favorite Kenny Anderson to tell you himself.
“As far as [the great] point guards go: Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, [Allen] Iverson, Steph Curry, Oscar Robertson, and you gotta put Kyrie in the next mix," Anderson told me. "He’s one of the best that ever played the game. He’s so talented. His ball-handling skills are exceptional. He’s hitting his shot from long range and short range. He can do it all. He’s just a great player. I love watching him. He’s one of my favorite players.
“The Nets would be crazy to even think about trading him. They’re favored to win everything. I don’t even believe that they are seriously thinking about trading him. I think that’s just something the media came up with to have something to talk about before the season starts. We got the best player in the league, Kevin Durant, with the best point guard in the league. Kyrie Irving. and an unstoppable scorer in James Harden. So no, trading Kyrie from the Nets perspective shouldn’t even come into their minds and definitely shouldn’t come out of their mouths as even a consideration.”
There is statistical evidence to back up what both point guard legends are saying.
Last season, Kyrie had the best regular season of his 10-year career, averaging 26.9 points, 6.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. He became just the ninth player in NBA history to join the exclusive 50/40/90 club and shot 50.6% from the field, 40.2% from the three, and 92.2% from the free-throw line. He joined the likes of Curry, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki and Malcolm Brogdon, along with his teammate, Durant, and head coach, Steve Nash.
To provide further insight, Syracuse University point guard icon Sherman Douglas — who played 11 seasons in the NBA and two with Nets — weighed in as the rumors as well.
“Kyrie is vital to the Nets' success this season. To even think about trading him is absurd," Douglas said. "It’s going to take the Lakers a while to get their chemistry [together], and we’ll see how that works out. But if you trade him, you’re not going to get equal value back, I don’t care what package you come up with. He is a special talent, so what type of sense would it make to take a step back in a season where you should be favored to win it all? And if it weren’t for injuries, you very well may have won it all last season. Of course, no disrespect to Milwaukee because they did an amazing job. But my point is, it would make no sense to break that team up.”
Nicknamed “The General” for the way he ran the Orangemen and setting the NCAA record for assists in 1989, Douglas offered his evaluation of Kyrie Irving as a point guard and a leader.
“Kyrie’s skill level of not just ball-handling but of shooting, passing and scoring is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He can do it all," Douglas said. "He is one of those point guards where you have to just say, 'I hope he’s off tonight.' And [with] the way Brooklyn plays spreading the floor with shooters — which leaves the defender on an island by himself with Kyrie — you wanna send help, but you can’t because of all of the shooters.
“And as a leader, one of the many things that had impressed me with Kyrie is that he can take a step back and let other guys score. So when he sees Durant is scoring or Harden has it going or whoever, he has the humility to take a step back and allow those guys to get off when he knows he could be doing the same exact level of scoring. And I’ve seen Harden do that as well. It’s not a competition, and that’s special. You don’t just throw that away, because that chemistry isn’t easy to come by and they jelled quickly.”
So everyone agrees that, on the court, Kyrie is invaluable. But one of the things that makes him somewhat of an enigma to many is the fact that Kyrie cares about much more than basketball.
At one point last season, Irving divulged that he was participating in his first Ramadan, a sacred time for Muslims where they fast from dawn to sunset and can’t eat or drink anything during the day. He also disclosed that the Israeli airstrikes that slaughtered dozens of Palestinians heavily weighed on him, and despite the fact that the playoffs were just days away and the Nets were significant favorites to win it all, his main focus wasn’t at the time bouncing a ball.
Kyrie explained why, with everything going on in the world, basketball isn't the most important thing for him to talk about right now. pic.twitter.com/y6YbMPoZq6— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 16, 2021
“There’s a lot of stuff going on in this world, and basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now," he said. "There’s a lot of stuff going on overseas. All my people are still in bondage all across the world. There’s a lot of dehumanization going on, so I apologize if I’m not going to be focused on your questions. There’s just too much going on in the world for me to just be talking about basketball... and it’s not just in Palestine and not just in Israel, it’s all over the world, and I feel it.
"I’m very compassionate to all races, all cultures, and to see so many people being discriminated against based on their religion, the color of their skin, what they believe in it’s just sad. We all say we’re human beings and we’re compassionate and we care, but what are you doing to help?”
Anybody with eyes could see the genuine hurt that Kyrie Irving was feeling at that moment. This is who he is. He cares deeply.
Shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection — in which the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. was violently attacked by a mob of supporters of Donald Trump as they sought to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election — Kyrie took a break from the team. Upon his return, he addressed the media.
"There are so many oppressed communities and so many things going on that are bigger than a ball going in the rim."— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) January 19, 2021
Kyrie Irving discussed his absence, mental health and his goals off the court.
(via @SNYNets) pic.twitter.com/4LY7T8V327
“When things become overwhelming in life, you know, you just got to take a step back and realize what’s important. I’m not alone in this. And that’s just a big thing about also mental health, you know, just coming in and being balanced with yourself and then being able to perform," Irving said. "So, with everything going on in the world politically, socially, it’s hard to ignore. I want to make changes daily. You know, there are so many oppressed communities, so many things going on that are bigger than just a ball going into the rim. So it’s just the balance of it.”
No one is going to deny that Kyrie's absence from the team was unexpected, and the lack of details opened the door for speculation and chatter. And to be fair, the way he handled it wasn’t the best either. Breaking the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols and attending a party is obviously not the greatest thing to do, even if it’s part of the taking a step away process.
However, at the same time, Irving’s mental health is something that needs to be intact in order for him to perform at the optimal level fans desire. And taking a break doesn’t always look the same for everyone. But in this society, athletes are still greatly ridiculed when they take time off for their mental health, just ask Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. But that doesn’t change the fact that mental health is something that should be valued, and Kyrie is not someone who is going to stop caring — because that’s just who he is.
On my show "The Rematch," while I was interviewing Stephen Jackson, he revealed that Kyrie bought a house for the family of George Floyd, who was murdered last year at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Irving also paid off the college tuition of nine students from an HBCU (Lincoln University) on Dec. 10 as part of his foundation’s 11 Days of Giving.
At the height of an international covid pandemic, he committed $1.5 million to help support the income of WNBA players who chose to sit out the 2020 season due to health and other personal reasons.
This past August, he donated funds to help build a solar water center in Pakistan that will provide clean water and electricity to over 1,000 people.
And I could go on and on and on, but in describing his character, many members of the media choose to focus on Kyrie not wanting to speak to them instead of constantly bringing up these facts.
It always goes back to him calling them pawns, or downplaying his need to take a mental break, or not being committed to the team or pulling up previous statements to add ridicule to him. A good example is his strong opposition to Thanksgiving.
(All the while ignoring the fact that he is very serious about his Native American heritage; his mother, Elizabeth, who passed away when he was 4, was a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Irving and his older sister, Asia, were actually welcomed into the tribe with a ceremony in 2018. He was even given the Lakota name "Little Mountain" by tribal elders. So, yes, it should be more than understandable why he would not be as enthusiastic about a holiday that marks the slaughter of his people, but I digress.)
I asked Douglas why many in the media choose to focus on the negative instead of the positive so often with Kyrie.
“Unfortunately, the way of the media is to focus on the negative and not the positive. Negativity is what sells," Douglas said. "They are not looking to praise Kyrie for what he does off the court, and he is not looking for that. In fact, he wants to do things quietly and is looking to do the right thing, and you have to commend him for that. What he is doing off the court is just phenomenal. I think Kyrie has to just tune all of that out and keep doing what he has been doing. But he is an example to all on how to give of yourself and to be selfless and care for the well-being of others in thought, word and in deed."
Thomas reflected with the same sentiments.
“I love the sensitivity that he shows to the community and in particular, people who are in poverty. I am one who grew up in poverty, so I benefitted from the charitable generosity and good will of others. And it is appreciated more than many people know because he doesn’t have to do that," Thomas said. "And he doesn’t do it to be seen doing it. Things leak out of course because that’s the age we are living in, but he would rather keep everything quiet, and that shows how genuine of a person he is — because he is doing it out of the kindness of his heart, not for recognition or to embarrass the person who he is helping, which happens too often. So I have all the respect and admiration in the world for him.”
Anderson had some closing comments, in addition.
"They just want him to just shut up and play basketball. He has things other than basketball that he feels passionately about, and there’s nothing wrong with that," Anderson said. "He cares for people in a way that is foreign to a lot of folks, but he’s supposed to care about people. He wants to make a difference in the world and that’s what he is doing. He’s looking at what’s going on overseas, what’s going on here in America, things affect him — but they are supposed to affect him. He’s a human being with a huge heart and the financial ability to make a change.
"I think he is doing great, and he needs to keep doing everything he’s doing — whether it’s challenging whoever, or helping whoever, or speaking up for whoever. It obviously didn’t take away from what he is doing on the court. He can’t help injuries, but when he laced them up, he dominated. And if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, things would’ve been different last year. So he just needs to ignore everyone and keep doing what he is doing. He definitely has my admiration and support.”
All three are absolutely right about Kyrie Irving, and I couldn't agree more.