Kyrie Irving’s Days in Brooklyn Are Numbered

Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It has been clear for a while now that Kyrie Irving’s time in Brooklyn — or anywhere else, for that matter — was never going to end well. Irving’s resistance to COVID vaccination, which essentially exploded last year’s supposed Nets “super-team” on the launchpad, was bad enough, but it didn’t mark him as a singular hazard; after all, Irving wasn’t the only anti-vaxx NBA player, just the only one who played in a city with an employer vaccine mandate. But things have deteriorated since he was allowed to play again. He flipped off Celtics fans amid a disastrous first-round playoff sweep, then actively tried to force a trade to another team twice. And the new season has gotten off to such a miserable start that it seems only a matter of time before Irving is no longer a Brooklyn Net.

Just a few days after he posted an Alex Jones video, Irving wrote an already notorious tweet promoting a film well known for its antisemitic tropes and the appearance of “Jewish slave ships.” The tweet was so ugly — particularly in the wake of Kanye West’s bigotry-filled press tour — that his team’s owner and the NBA itself immediately denounced Irving’s “hate speech.” The most disconcerting part of this episode, though, was an exchange Irving had with ESPN reporter Nick Friedell, who pressed him on what, exactly, he was trying to say.

This “you media people are trying to twist my words, and I’m telling the real truth” routine is the same one he pulled when batting back questions about getting vaccinated. It’s the same one Aaron Rodgers pulled too. It’s always delivered with a certain smirk: the Joe Rogan smirk, the “I’ve done the research and you’re a hater” smirk, described well by ESPN’s Myron Metcalf:

But it’s one thing when that smirk comes from a self-absorbed athlete who went down a Reddit rabbit hole while sitting on the toilet and now thinks he understands vaccinology better than medical professionals. It’s another when that athlete is displaying the familiar “I know something you don’t and you’ll never understand” attitude in service of antisemitic beliefs. And it is quite another when West is warning he’ll go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” then calling Irving out as “a real one” (while struggling to spell Irving’s name and then blaming his error on the “red media”).

It is quite another when this is happening outside college-football games:

It is quite another when you are now seeing this shit all the time.

That’s why what’s happening with Irving is so scary and why more and more people are calling for the Nets to split up with him once and for all either by a trade, a lengthy suspension, or just letting him go altogether.

The problem is unlikely to get any better. At this point, why would Irving change course? He deleted the original tweet, but if we’ve learned anything about him — for better and, recently, for much worse — it’s that backing down is the last thing he’ll do. This is the downside of the “More Than an Athlete,” “Shut Up and Dribble” movement, which has encouraged athletes to speak their minds on the issues that matter to them: They can be as stupid and bigoted and stubborn and ugly as the rest of us. Irving fought the Nets, the league, and the entire sports establishments on vaccines and the bubble, and while he certainly lost some money and some sponsorships, he wasn’t really punished for sticking to his guns. You think he’s going to back off because of some tough questions from Nick Friedell? This is a guy who isn’t sure dinosaurs were real and still thinks JFK was killed because “he sought to end the bank cartel.” Irving will keep talking because that is what Irving does. And because he is an athlete, we will all keep putting a microphone in front of him.

So far, the Nets are resisting calls to move on from him or even to punish him. But it sure does seem to be only a matter of time, and not just because the team is off to such a miserable 2-5 start, which makes the on-court juice the Nets get from Irving (who is off to a solid individual start himself while his team flounders) not worth the off-court squeeze. More tweets are coming. More questions will follow. He’ll double down again. And it is one thing to wave away anti-vaxx sentiments; it is quite another to wave away “Jewish slave ships.” There’s a lot more smirking going around these days, and there are much uglier things behind those smirks than there used to be. Until the Nets do something about it, that smirk is going to be associated with them.

Since Brooklyn added Irving to its roster, everything has gotten worse piece by piece. That trajectory is not going to reverse itself; it is accelerating. Irving will keep spouting his nonsense. It’s up to the Nets, and maybe even the NBA, to decide how long they hold the microphone for him.

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Kyrie Irving’s Days in Brooklyn Are Numbered