Kyrie Irving Finally Does His Job
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA reporter
Kyrie Irving had everyone's ears.
After shirking the media for nearly three weeks, drawing $25,000 fines for him and the Brooklyn Nets for violating the league's rules, Irving spoke Monday.
There were more than 40 reporters on the call, and now was his chance to explain what he didn't like, what he wanted changed, what he was protesting, and why he chose not to speak.
But Irving didn't point to anything, specifically.
Instead, he came across as a person who just couldn't deal with the microscope of being a professional athlete during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also trying to adjust to new teammates in a shortened training camp, following missing nearly 10 months because of a season-ending shoulder surgery in February.
"The focus is on what's going on and the task here, my job," Irving said Monday after the team's first preseason game Sunday. "And I wanted to make sure that was clear. No distractions, nothing about dispelling anything, nothing about going back and forth, nothing about calling out one person or another."
Irving couldn't deal with any drama, any scrutiny, any criticism.
It's understandable considering the collective sense of angst and terror across the nation as the coronavirus pandemic surges with record-breaking numbers in many regions. Our nerves are all hanging by a thread.
But, at the same time, athletes are required to speak to reporters at practices and games. It's part of their job, and they're handsomely paid for their time. Every other NBA player faced reporters this season amid the same pressures.
Irving, who has long had a tricky relationship with the media, said there wasn't a specific report that made him want to avoid interviews.
"It's just really how I felt about the mistreatment of certain artists when you get to a certain platform of when we make decisions within our lives to have full control and ownership," Irving said. "We go through the rigorous season, we do everything we're asked to do and we want to perform in a secure and protected space."
Instead of talking to reporters at the beginning of training camp, Irving released a statement Dec. 4, saying he wanted to "ensure that my message is properly conveyed." The statement said, in part, "My goal this season is to let my work on and off the court speak for itself. Life hit differently this year and it requires us, it requires me, to move differently. So, this is the beginning of that change.”
After the NBA fined him, he responded with an Instagram story on Friday.
"I pray we utilize the 'fine money' for the marginalized communities in need, especially seeing where our world is presently," Irving wrote. "[I am] here for Peace, Love, and Greatness. So stop distracting me and my team, and appreciate the Art. We move different over here.
"I do not talk to Pawns. My attention is worth more."
Irving has come under scrutiny throughout this career for comments he's made.
He was skewered for questioning whether the Earth was flat on a podcast in February 2017. He was criticized last season after saying in a league-wide call that players shouldn't partake in the NBA Bubble because it would distract from the fight for social justice.
Then, in an appearance on Kevin Durant's podcast in October, he stirred up more controversy when he seemingly took a shot at LeBron James' ability to make clutch shots late in games.
"This is the first time in my career I've looked down and be like, 'That motherf---er can make that shot too,'" Irving said on Durant's podcast, "The Etcs."
James, who played alongside Irving on the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2014-2017, winning a championship with him in 2016, said on the Road Trippin' podcast last week that he was taken aback by those words.
"It kind of hurt me a little bit," James said on the podcast.
Irving also made a remark about first-year Nets coach Steve Nash that was interpreted as disparaging this fall.
“I don’t really see us having a head coach,” Irving said on Durant's podcast in October. “You know what I mean? KD could be a head coach. I could be a head coach.”
Irving walked back that comment Monday, calling Nash "amazing."
"I think I got to take back my comments in terms of head coach from a few months ago," Irving said.
NBA players are in a unique situation.
They don't wear helmets or hats. We see their emotions. We feel as though we know them. They're not just players, they're personalities. It means they get multi-million-dollar endorsement deals and huge platforms, but it also means their personal lives are on display and their words are picked apart.
And, of course, when players make controversial comments, things become even more intensified for them. But it's their job to face those consequences.
Irving left others to answer for his words. Nash said at the beginning of training camp that he thought Irving's comments about the team not having a head coach were misinterpreted.
And even though the team was fined and he had to field questions about why Irving didn't want to talk to reporters, Nash said he never tried to make him break his silence.
He left it up to him.
"I didn't talk to him about the media situation," Nash said. "Maybe I should've. Maybe if this was year two or three, I would've."
But the holdout finally ended.
Irving finally did his job.
"Prayers out to everyone's families, first and foremost," Irving said. "It's such a sensitive time in history. 2020 has not been friendly to everyone. It's been filled with challenges and life has come into play, so I'm just grateful to be sitting here with you guys."
Heck, it even seemed as though he enjoyed it.