To argue that Kyrie Irving is easy to figure out would necessitate engaging in revisionist history. In fact, there’s nothing easy about him — and not just because of his partiality to conspiracy theories and scientifically debunked positions. He has long marched to the beat of his own drum, and it’s fair to note that his value on the court as a seven-time All-Star excuses away his transgressions off it. And does he have a lot — among them his refusal to be vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus and, just three days ago, his tweet of an Amazon.com link to the movie Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up, Black America, which, like the book on which it is based, carries a racist tone.
To be fair, Nets owner Joe Tsai immediately went to social media to blast Irving’s promotion of wrongful content. “I’m disappointed that Kyrie appears to support a film based on a book full of antisemitic disinformation. I want to sit down and make sure he understands this is hurtful to all of us, and as a man of faith, it is wrong to promote hate based on race, ethnicity or religion.” The Nets and the National Basketball Association then issued similar statements. Given the negative backlash, the 2011 first overall pick would have done well to take down the Twitter post, issue an apology for what is clearly a mistaken viewpoint, and move on.
Irving being Irving, however, the message he sought to impart in the aftermath was one of defiance. No, he said, he wasn’t being racist when he shared the link. “I am an OMNIST and I meant no disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs. The “Anti-Semitic” label that is being pushed on me is not justified and does not reflect the reality or truth I live in everyday. I embrace and want to learn from all walks of life and religions.” In other words, he’s simply being himself, and all and sundry are wrong to pillory him for his so-called inclusive stance.
That Irving did not take down the tweet speaks volumes of his stubborn nature. That the Nets still played him yesterday in spite of their opposition to it likewise speaks volumes of their supposed commitment to the truth. Freedom of speech comes with responsibility, and their failure to penalize him for acting inappropriately indicates the greater importance they place on his skills with a basketball in hand than on the line he crossed with a keyboard at his disposal. Their protestations notwithstanding, they kept him on the floor for the most number of minutes and let him take and issue the most number of shots and assists. So much for sending the right message.
There’s no question that Irving is a magician when he burns rubber and aims to make leather and nylon meet under the klieg lights. There’s also no question that he courts controversy with errant perspectives when not in uniform. If nothing else, his gaudy stat line yesterday, albeit in a loss, underscores which is really more important to the Nets. Ignorance is his excuse. What is theirs?
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.