Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has yet to play a game alongside Kevin Durant, but he’s already creating a contentious environment and unstable foundation by making the decision to stage a media blackout for the 2020-21 NBA season.
Irving released a statement to announce his decision on Friday instead of speaking directly to reporters. This is a problematic tactic on a myriad of levels, and further proof the 28-year-old phenom isn’t learning from some of his past missteps.
Kyrie Irving media blackout: A dubious leadership gesture
Here’s the statement Irving released, courtesy of Malika Andrews, whose ESPN.com report outlines how NBA players may face fines if they refuse to grant access to media members at games and practices:
Both Irving and Durant have been critical of and even hostile at times toward the press in the past. Last March, Irving went on the record to acknowledge some errors in how he’s handled the media in the past. Apparently, that self-reflection was short-lived.
The problem is, it’s part of an NBA player’s job to speak to the media. It’s meant to be a symbiotic relationship. Many of these reporters got into covering the NBA for a living because they live and breathe basketball, have an immense passion for it, and even while putting objectivity first as journalists, borderline idolize superstar players.
These reporters aren’t really out to get you, Kyrie. Just be an adult, and answer their questions. Instead of evolving and changing like many secure leaders do, too often Irving gets combative, reverts to his petty previous ways and acts above everyone else.
Remember: this is the same man who thought he was too cool for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, desperately wanting to prove he could win a title on his own. This was after combining with LeBron to cap a rally from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit with a Game 7 winning shot. Sounds crazy to not be OK with being The King’s No. 2 in command. Whatever, Irving is young and who knows? Maybe he’ll actually pull it off.
At least that was the thinking at the time for those who defended his decision to bust out of Cleveland a year before LeBron did. But then Irving wore out his welcome so fast and lasted for only two seasons with the Boston Celtics before bailing to Brooklyn.
Irving didn’t realize how good he had it with LeBron. That championship standard was apparently not being met in Boston, or at least, not being met on Irving’s terms. Why the cynical stinger there for KI? Because the Celtics went deeper in this year’s playoffs when they replaced him with Kemba Walker at the point guard position.
Kyrie Irving media blackout: Steve Nash’s first off-court headache
If you don’t count the rumored request Houston Rockets superstar James Harden made to his team to move to Brooklyn and join forces with the two superstars already there, this genius media blackout move by Irving isn’t making things easier on his new head coach.
Nash is a Hall of Fame player who was among the best to ever play the point guard position. He’s the ideal mentor for Irving, the epitome of a class act who failed to win a championship throughout his illustrious career, yet always stood by to answer the tough questions when he fell short. This is Nash’s chance to, in essence, vicariously live through Irving and will this immensely talented Nets team to a championship.
Oh, but there’s baggage. We all know Irving and Durant have plenty of diva in them. It was already going to be hard for Irving and Durant to work together. With Nash being thrust into coaching for the first time with championship-or-bust expectations, he’ll have enough on his plate acclimating to an unprecedented position.
Just getting Irving and Durant to coexist will be a daily grind, especially if they don’t win right away. That’s a likely scenario, considering Durant is coming off a torn Achilles and Irving has been in and out of the lineup with various injuries. Nash is probably going to be taking a lot of slings and arrows from the media in the beginning of his tenure. Irving won’t be there at the podium or in the locker room to back him up, or create the perception of a unified front among the franchise’s most important members.
Kyrie Irving is already shrugging off accountability
Part of being the leader of a team and a face of an NBA franchise is fielding criticism and being accountable for when things don’t go quite right. It’s obvious Irving is a competitive guy. He may be the best ball-handler the game has ever seen. His combination of wizardry in that area, proficient outside shot and knack for being ambidextrous around the rim makes Irving among the most electrifying offensive players of this or any era.
The tangible skill set is all there. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Irving has indubitably worked hard to get to where he is, yet there’s a ton of natural ability involved in his greatness. Success arrived for him so early at every level of basketball. Hitting the game-winner in an NBA Finals Game 7 at age 24 is bound to mess with somebody’s head. That was more than four years ago, though. It’s time for Irving to get his act together and grow up.
Sure, Irving’s most ardent defenders will say because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s looking out for his mental health. That’s fine — to a degree. Maybe declining some media appearances here and there would be, if frowned upon, at least somewhat acceptable, and par for the course due to Irving’s history with the media.
To black out the press for an entire season? That’s a different matter entirely. Players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have spoken out about their mental health and the toll being an NBA player can take. This isn’t to suggest outsiders shouldn’t empathize.
What Irving is doing here is creating a bad precedent that, whether he realizes it or not, leaves his teammates hanging out to dry when things aren’t going well. Preferential treatment toward Kawhi Leonard and Paul George contributed to derailing the Los Angeles Clippers’ NBA title hopes this past season, and Irving’s media blackout has real potential to chart a similar course for the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets.
Think about it: If Irving isn’t around to answer questions following a Nets loss, it puts his teammates — particularly those who don’t have the clout of someone like Durant — in an awkward position. Lots of questions will inevitably revolve around Irving since he’ll have handled the ball the most and had a drastic impact on the outcome of any game.
This isn’t what leadership looks like. Whether Nash can get through to Irving at all, given his success at navigating the on- and off-court difficulties of being an NBA superstar, remains to be seen. It doesn’t help that another media adversary like Durant wields perhaps even more influence in the Nets organization.
Reporters’ Twitter reaction to Kyrie Irving media blackout
Well, members of the media aren’t exactly over the moon about Irving’s decision, which is hardly a surprise.
Forgive the cross-sports pollination here for a second, but what’s that quote? By, you know, arguably the greatest coach in any major sport ever, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots?
“Do your job.”
Irving should just do his job. Ball out. Answer to the media. Play by the rules. See, Irving thinks he’s eliminating the distraction of the media by giving them all the cold shoulder. In reality it’s going to be an elephant in the room all season.
By creating these unnecessary rifts in the public eye, Irving is undermining the foundation Nash is hoping to build, along with the Nets’ championship hopes for this coming season and beyond.