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
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,
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
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,
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
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
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
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
“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
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
Kyrie Irving discussed his absence, mental health and his goals off
“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
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
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
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.