The consensus is that Kyrie Irving is his own worst enemy, refusing to back down from his confusing views on politics, religion, and race relations. He would say that he is the knowledgeable one, and that those who cover or scrutinize him fail to understand his ideologies.
So, when Irving faced the New York media and refused to apologize for posting a link on his Twitter feed to a film containing antisemitic material, and he also declined to say whether he was antisemitic, he viewed it as a means of protest against a system he feels tries to stifle his freedom of thought.
Irving is not the first NBA player with nonconformist views. He is not the first player who views the media as adversaries. What is troubling is that Irving refused to truly explain his stances and his diatribes are so confusing, perhaps intentionally, that it’s nearly impossible for him to gain support.
He shouldn’t get any support on his latest stance, which was to vigorously defend his right to post a link for “Hebrews to Negroes.” The movie’s goal is to prove that Blacks and Africans were the true original people on Earth, but to do that, the movie makes antisemitic references and Jewish stereotypes.
According to the Anti-Defamation League website, the nearly four-hour film “promotes beliefs commonly found among antisemitic and extremist factions of the BHI [Black Hebrew Israelite] movement, including claims that modern Jews are imposters who stole the religious heritage of Black people and have engaged in a ‘cover-up’ to prevent Black people from knowing their ‘true’ identity.
“While much of the film deals with historical and genetic arguments about various racial and ethnic groups, it also includes extensive antisemitism, including claims of a global Jewish conspiracy to oppress and defraud Black people, allegations that Jews are in part responsible for the transatlantic slave trade, and the claim that Jews falsified the history of the Holocaust in order to ‘conceal their nature and protect their status and power.’ ”
It’s one thing for Irving to believe that Blacks are the original people of the Earth. He is not alone in that belief, but this movie is obviously the wrong vehicle to promote his philosophy. And instead of admitting that, Irving defended his rights until he was suspended for at least five games by the Nets for his refusal to apologize. Finally, late Thursday night, he posted an apology on Instagram that appeared sincere and well written but perhaps too late.
The Nets and the NBA wanted an early apology from Irving, but he appears determined to challenge the system until it ends his career.
Colin Kaepernick kneeled for the national anthem and protested against police brutality, and he was blackballed by the NFL as a result. Irving is not in this category. Irving has not explained his stances. He has not galvanized those he wishes to reach. While he has given money to charitable causes, donated cash to WNBA players, and carried out other philanthropic efforts, he also confuses those who want to understand his cause and his purpose with statements that at times are thoughtful but don’t make much sense.
Before Irving’s apology on Thursday, he spoke with the media and referred to the plight of Black Americans. “Where were you when I was a kid, figuring out that 300 million of my ancestors are buried in America,” he said. “I’m a human being that is 30 years old and I’ve been growing up in a country that’s told me that I wasn’t worth anything, and I came from a slave class and that I come from a people that are meant to be treated the way we are treated every day.”
These are poignant thoughts, but they have nothing to do with antisemitism. Irving can be pro-Black and not antisemitic at the same time. And if Irving wants those who follow him, cover him, and consider him not only a brilliant basketball player but an astute person (in most situations) to understand him, he needs to find a forum to clearly explain his thoughts.
If what he posted gave the perception that he is antisemitic, he has to be courageous enough to admit he was wrong. His stubbornness has only gotten him suspended, and honestly, on the verge of being out of the NBA.
It’s not about his beliefs but rather the headaches he gives his organizations. The Celtics are doing cartwheels that he’s gone, and so are the Cavaliers. He promised this season would not include any drama after last year’s non-vaccination controversy. It took four games for Irving to again be at the center of a non-basketball firestorm.
What happens now is up to the Nets. They can extend the suspension beyond five games. They can release him. They can welcome him back but prevent him from speaking to the media, or Irving can have frank and honest conversations with his teammates, the organization, and the NBA about his principles.
But it takes fortitude to approach these conversations with an open mind and be prepared to learn just as much as you teach. This could be a crossroads in Irving’s career, and it’s up to him whether it will boost or damage his already blemished reputation.
Nets looking to save season
Not surprisingly, the Nets parted ways with Steve Nash after a 2-5 start. Coaching the Brooklyn Nets was a job that never fit Nash and he looked uncomfortable at times trying to lead a franchise in chaos.
The Nets handed Nash a talented but dramatic team with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, and he was never able to find consistency with his roster or to develop a coaching style. He was constantly outcoached, including by Ime Udoka in the playoffs last season, and looked overwhelmed with the moment.
Nets general manager Sean Marks said management had decided last week to make the move, and Nash appeared relieved to be rid of the responsibility. But, in many ways, it’s Marks’s fault. Yes, the Nets have star power with Durant and Irving, but that monumental trade to acquire Ben Simmons has been a bust.
Simmons is playing with the same pass-always style that plagued his final years in Philadelphia and has shown no offensive improvement even after a year off. He is out indefinitely with knee issues after not playing last season because of back issues.
Irving and Durant are scoring but the team isn’t playing any defense. Seth Curry remains out with ankle issues, Joe Harris is working back to form after a year off with a foot injury, and TJ Warren remains out because of a foot injury he sustained while with the Pacers in December 2020. The Nets roster wasn’t built to contend unless Simmons returns to All-Star form, which hasn’t happened.
Nash didn’t have the personality or disposition to galvanize the team and deal with the personalities. Maybe Udoka does have that disposition, and the Nets are seriously considering bringing back their former assistant.
“The team was not doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Marks said. “It was time now because we have lofty aspirations that we need to get to.”
Marks and Nash are friends; the potential hiring of Udoka is a plea for Marks to keep his job. He is the one who signed Irving with the agreement that Durant would follow. He traded for Harden and then traded him for Simmons. He allowed Bruce Brown to leave for the Nuggets. He signed DeAndre Jordan because he was close with Durant.
Durant then demanded that Nash and Marks be fired if he was to remain in Brooklyn. That didn’t happen. Both kept their jobs, Durant was talked into staying, and Irving was supposed to be engaged this season with no drama attached.
“The players were not consulted,” Marks said of the decision. “I don’t think we needed that input right now. It wasn’t panning out on the court. I could list the distractions. I don’t want to get into them.
“[Nash] certainly has not had an even playing field. I definitely feel some responsibility because this does not fall on him. It’s completely unfair to state where we are as a team completely on Steve. We were open with our dialogue.”
Short of saying the team quit on Nash, Marks believed the team wasn’t giving its best effort, Nash relayed to management that he felt he wasn’t reaching the players.
“We saw games this year where I don’t think we brought it,” Marks said. “We took quarters off, a half was taken off, a game was taken off. We didn’t compete. That falls on all of us. The candidate we’re looking for is going to bring it out. Call guys accountable. The reason why we made this move, time is ticking.”
The Nets are one of the more chaotic franchises in professional sports, from Durant’s trade demand to Simmons’s back injury to Harden’s trade demand to Irving’s many issues. And now they are interested in a coach who is serving an unprecedented suspension from a division rival.
The focus is almost never on basketball in Brooklyn, and it won’t be any time soon, especially if they hire Udoka. But Marks insists the team still has championship aspirations, as minuscule as they seem now.
“I’m completely empathetic to what’s going on here and I’m certainly not proud of the situation we find ourselves in,” he said. “I’d like to get back to basketball. We wouldn’t have made moves like this if we didn’t think we could win. We do realize we have a window here. When you have this group of players and this salary cap, we hope to achieve that. We hope this is a catalyst for a turnaround.”
Bulls trying to find their way
With Lonzo Ball out indefinitely, the Bulls have been trying to find themselves in the Eastern Conference. Expectations were rather low, with the Bulls expected to fight for a play-in spot or perhaps a fifth or sixth seed. The Bulls entered Friday at 5-4, with impressive wins over Miami and Boston, and puzzling losses at home to Cleveland and at San Antonio.
The Bulls are trying to become a more up-tempo team, but the challenge is playing with so much size. Chicago is 22nd in scoring and 25th in field goal percentage despite the presence of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, who is coming off knee surgery.
“We have not been productive on the fast break,” coach Billy Donovan said. “Our numbers have not been good. We have to be able to convert better. At the end of the day, your offensive rating is always going to be tied to missing or making shots. I don’t feel like we’re necessarily getting poor shots, but the fast break is something we’ve got to get better.”
Donovan said he’s still trying to develop rotations, with 11 players averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Reserves Derrick Jones, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, and former Celtic Javonte Green blitzed their Boston counterparts in Chicago’s 18-point win last month.
LaVine has been trying to get back to playing consistent minutes. He missed the first two games and then rested in a loss to the Spurs.
“Everybody is trying to figure out their teams and combinations of players,” Donovan said. “The good part of it is he’s been in the league for a while. That helps. He’s bright enough and smart enough to know his reps are limited, and that’s not ideal from a coaching perspective. We’ve got to manage his health, that’s the most important thing for us. He’s getting into routine to know what is best to keep him at a place where he is feeling good.”
There are going to be times where LaVine will sit out practice or even shootarounds to rest his knee. The organization is being cautious after the fate of Ball, who required a second knee procedure this month.
“You have routine and when you go through routines for a number of years, you get settled into that,” Donovan said of LaVine. “He’s been very open to changing that routine because I think he knows the most important thing is playing in a game. It’s certainly not ideal to have him going game, no practice, no shootaround, game. We’ve got to figure out a way. He’s going to want that to a certain extent.”
Donovan was the University of Florida coach when Celtics center Al Horford and the Gators won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and ‘07. In his 16th season, Horford is the last player from those teams active in the NBA.
The Bulls coach said he is not surprised at Horford’s longevity.
“I think when you’re with a player when he’s younger, when we were playing against Ohio State and he had a high ankle sprain and this is when they had [Greg] Oden and they were really, really good,” Donovan said. “Mike Conley was on that team. The detail that he had as a young player, taking care of his body, he really got it. And I think a lot of that probably stems from that.”
Those Florida teams had Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, and Horford, all sons of professional athletes. Donovan believes that contributed to them being serious about conditioning and health.
“At a young age, these guys were taught the importance of taking care of themselves,” Donovan said. “And Al has always been incredibly meticulous with his health and I feel like he’s had a very, very long career because of that concept. I’ve been fortunate. Joakim, [Udonis] Haslem, [Horford], some of the greatest competitors I’ve ever coached. He’s a guy like Haslem, you could put him on a team and he knows exactly how he’s going to impact the locker room.”
Former Hornets forward Miles Bridges pleaded no contest to a domestic assault charge stemming from an incident with his then-girlfriend in May. Bridges will not serve jail time, but because he pleaded no contest, the NBA is likely to suspend Bridges for multiple games if he signs with a club. The Hornets did not offer Bridges a contract, but they have the right to match any offer. The Hornets would have to negotiate a new deal with Bridges to bring him back. He was considered a rising star and arguably the team’s best player, but he may remain unsigned indefinitely considering the serious circumstances … The Spurs shocked the league with the release of former first-round pick Joshua Primo, but it has been disclosed the 19-year-old made inappropriate sexual advances toward a team employee on multiple occasions. Primo, who is a free agent after clearing waivers, released a statement saying he is undergoing therapy for previous trauma. A former Spurs psychologist who has sued Primo and the team said Primo exposed himself to her multiple times. Primo is considered untouchable around the NBA until more information surfaces about his actions. The Spurs had recently guaranteed Primo’s contract for next season, meaning they are still paying him ... There is reason for concern for Miami’s Victor Oladipo, who has not played this season because of knee issues. Oladipo, felled by injuries over the past few years, had his moments in last season’s playoff series against the Celtics and was expected to be a key bench player. Coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat are being cautious with Oladipo, but it’s apparent he won’t have the expected immediate impact and the offense has suffered. Spoelstra has opted to bring Duncan Robinson off the bench, and he is shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line in 15 minutes per game. The Heat also have been affected by slow starts from Kyle Lowry (40.4 percent from the field) and Gabe Vincent (36.5). Speaking of Vincent, he is 7 for 13 against the Celtics and 16 of 50 against the rest of the league.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.