Kyrie's Argument On Guys Not Playing This Season

There are strong arguments for both sides.

Jim Rome
June 15, 2020 - 9:59 am
Kyrie Irving

USA Today

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The NBA announced a plan to return, the player’s association leadership voted on it, and everything seemed to be going pretty well. And then Friday came along and then it seemed like things might be falling apart. There were multiple reports that numerous players were considering not playing.

How many are we talking about? One agent told Howard Beck that 2/3s of the top 40 players in the league might be in that camp.

And there are a variety of reasons, starting with the issues with the bubble, errr, ahhhh, and campus-like environment. And more importantly, the Black Lives Matter movement, and whether players could help the movement more by not playing.

As one player told Chris Haynes: “What message are we sending by agreeing to this during this time?  We’re out here marching and protesting, and yet we all leave our families in these scary times and gather to perform at a place where the owners won’t be at? What type of sense does that make? We’ll be going backwards. That place isn’t that magical.”

And the man in the middle of this is…wait for it.  …Kyrie Irving.

On Friday night, Irving, one of the players association VP’s, spoke on a call of nearly 100 players and made a case for not playing in Orlando. According to Woj, “Irving made an impassioned plea for players to make a stand and sit out the season's resumption in Orlando, sources said” The idea being that he believes players energies would be better focused on racial oppression and systemic racism.

It is a very compelling argument.

It is also kind of strange that Kyrie is the guy making it. Because according to Woj, when Kyrie was on a call with team reps and NBAPA members,  a week earlier to discuss the plan to return, this didn’t seem to be an issue for him.

According to Woj, on the previous call, Kyrie raised questions like: as an injured player, would he count among the 35 people Brooklyn is allowed to bring to Florida? “Could he sit in the stands to cheer on his teammates? Use a sauna for his rehab?”

And this: “He had a question about NBA sponsors on campus, and whether they would be supplying players with products. A union official asked him for an example, and Irving mentioned a popular adult beverage -- before insisting that he had indeed simply shared an example -- and wondered what food might be provided to players under league partnerships.”

So his questions at that time were about what food and drink might be provided to players and whether he could use a sauna. Not about the impact that returning would have on communities and the work on deconstructing systemic racism.

Those do not sound like the questions of a guy with serious concerns about what resuming the season would mean for the major issues facing the country right now. How come his questions were about sauna and food, not whether resuming play would be a distraction from the movement.

That’s not to say that people can’t change, grow, and evolve. And I really hope that’s the case in this case. But to go from asking about using a sauna to advocating for not playing due to major issues of conscience in a matter of a few days, is a pretty remarkable turn.

Questions about sauna use and food and beverage options?!? That sounds like a guy going on a cruise, not a guy concerned with major issues.

And the vote on the first call was unanimous, so Kyrie didn’t object at that time. But now is apparently leading the charge for not playing. No wonder some folks are scratching their heads.

And it’s a tricky one, because normally, I’d say that’s Kyrie just doing what Kyrie does wherever he goes. Being two-faced, causing chaos, and disrupting everything.

As Woj reported: “There's significant support to resume the season among the league's superstars -- most of whom are on playoff contenders -- and Irving seems to be relishing the clash.”

Like he’s just picking a fight just to pick a fight because that’s what he does. Easy to dismiss this dude as just another, ‘likes to fight guy.”

But in this case, he does have a good argument.

Once the league resumes, that will be the focus. There will be no discussion of players and their involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. The world will move on and people won’t discuss systemic racism, they’ll discuss what the Lakers last night.

Yes, players have advocated for change while playing in the past and it is possible to do it again this time, but I completely get the argument that the world is focused on this moment because there are no distractions in this moment. And that if there is basketball, it would be a distraction, and could risk ruining the moment.  

Then again, it’s just so strange that Kyrie is the guy making that argument, and saying that guys shouldn’t play. Kyrie’s injured and out for the rest of the season. He’s not playing anyway. So in a way, it’s a little strange for a guy who’s not playing to be telling everyone else they shouldn’t play either.

And it’s really strange for a Flat Earth Truther to be leading the way on this. As one player told Woj, "I'm not as interested in him as the messenger than I am in the message.”

But Kyrie isn’t alone. Dwight Howard’s agent released a statement saying that Howard agrees with Kyrie and making the point that basketball will be a distraction at this point and the more important issue is the rare opportunity to address systemic racism.

Stephen Jackson, who has become a leader in this movement, made this point over the weekend.

That’s the argument. That’s the message. And I’ve got to say, he’s a much better messenger than Kyrie.

The question then becomes, are these two things mutually exclusive? Is the message and playing, mutually exclusive or can these players effectively address both? For some, creating awareness of the issue and playing ARE mutually exclusive. And I can see why someone would feel that way. And that same time, there are others that want to play, and in fact, believe that playing gives them a great platform to make their point. Either way, it’s going to be a deeply personal decision for each player no matter decision they make. And there are strong arguments for both sides. Fact is, there really is no right answer.