For the selfish, distant, and detached among us, Kyrie Irving is a verb. Want to sabotage someone or something? Then you’ll hear how you have Kyrie-d a project, or Kyrie-d a relationship, or even Kyrie-d a NBA season. It’s not something that Irving can change by speaking into a mic on Media Day. Regardless of how he sees himself or last season, the perception of his behavior needed no explanation. We don’t need to feel water, to know that rain is wet. And we didn’t need Kyrie to scapegoat his behavior in order to understand what he was last season and how it corrupted the Celtics.
The noise surrounding Kyrie Irving at Nets media day as he tried to shape it to his own advantage felt like a series of talking points for a politician. Show empathy. Be a victim. Apologize. Say it was on you. Go to the I was having personal problems card. Lift up my new teammates. Of course, it worked. Irving, if nothing else, knows how to relitigate his own behavior to fit into a social media framework. But it was, frankly, totally unnecessary. No one other than armchair shrinks care why Kyrie detonated the Celtics. His why is irrelevant now that a new season is upon us and he has changed zipcodes. He failed everyone in Boston because he couldn’t, as my great grandmother used to say, breathe deeply and take care of business. Now it’s on to a third team in three years. Let the past go.
I feel for Irving in the loss of his grandfather nearly a year ago. He said he had no joy. He didn’t have counseling and he didn’t understand how to handle grief. He was miserable and he is one of those people that when he is going through something everyone feels it. But the truth is Kyrie’s grief and the behavior that emanated from it isn’t an outlier. Every single day there are people who lose people they love, people who have lost children which is the worst, and they have to get up, go to work, put on the happy face, and do their job. They don’t have the luxury of self-isolating because of grief. They don’t have the luxury of million dollar paychecks. They have to get in the muck and do what they are being paid to do and during their private time mourn, reflect, be sad, remember. One of the things that Irving never understood was the meaning of “face of the franchise”. It doesn’t mean best player, most talented, or impactful. Face of the franchise means you lead men. They come first. You come second. We and not me.
Unfortunately for him, Irving is in a business in which the past will always be brought up when he reverts back to Boston Kyrie. Regardless of his spin, Kyrie was selfish and detached in Cleveland too. Then, he was frustrated at his role on a LeBron James team. Irving can’t change his basic personality traits particularly when he is under stress. But Brooklyn is new and an opportunity.
This year without Kevin Durant the pressure Irving faces is about himself and his leadership and in a distant way his character. The Nets were fine last year without him, albeit they were not contenders. But they proved they had chemistry and players understood their roles. The front office felt obligated to empower the roster. It worked so well Kyrie and best bud Kevin Durant came calling without a pitch.
Nevertheless, Kyrie Irving is back to the beginning. He will be judged by his weakness. Did he learn anything?
Probably. You can’t fault Irving for how much he has learned on this 8 year journey of his. The question is whether he can put it into practice. Can he really change? Irving talked about being treated fairly, something a lot of NBA superstars whine about. The media isn’t fair is a common gripe. No one understands their life. But when you add up the debits and credits of superstar players, they get more of the fairness card than the rest of us.
Irving said he wants to be considered a human first and a basketball player second. Yes, of course. But, there has to be reciprocity. He has to look at his teammates as humans first. He has to not talk down to his teammates, to empower everyone with respect instead of being rude, dismissive and brusque when he is unable to meet expectations, when young players are young players, when things are not working. Last year, Irving was depressed and that affected his behavior. But what if his teammates were depressed. He didn’t treat them well. He didn’t put human first, basketball player second with them. So, all of this be a kind human is a two-way street.
Luckily for him, the non-championship contender Nets are playing with house money until Kevin Durant is back in the fold and healthy. They can grow together. Kyrie on the roster changes everything though, just by the nature of his talent. Without the pressure, he can exhale somewhat. But the scrutiny that he despises will continue because he is Kyrie Irving. He hit a Game-7 walk off to win a title. He’s a clutch scorer and magical with the ball in his hands when he is at the rim. He’s unique. He does things Steph does not do, and Dame doesn’t do, and Russ doesn’t do. But all three of them uplift their teammates. It is still the Kyrie learning curve.
I am waiting for him to acknowledge that.