Kyrie Irving is refusing to shut up and dribble.
Good for him. This is still America, or so it says on the door. It doesn’t matter what his opinion is, he’s free to express it … and, of course, embrace the consequences.
One always goes with the other.
In this case, Irving is declining to get the COVID-19 vaccine. That puts him at odds with the New York City local government, where he’d be unable to play. Since Irving is a Brooklyn Net, he’s stuck.
The Nets, uninterested in having a part-time player — even a seven-time All-Star — said he can’t begin the season with them. So a guy is willing to walk away from a real NBA title contender, not to mention a $34.9 million salary (and a $186.6 million extension), due to his convictions.
"Kyrie has made a personal choice,” general manager Sean Marks said. “And we respect his individual right to choose. Currently, the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.”
That’s fair, too. Every action has a reaction. The Nets are well within their rights to tell their employees they have to show up for work. Like every day.
So here we have a classic American problem being handled in a classic American fashion. And while there are all sorts of hand-wringing, head-shaking and insult-throwing (mostly at Kyrie), it seems like this is actually a sign the system is working.
Irving is making his individual choice. The Nets made their individual choice. The NYC government made its choice. It’s a tough break for his teammates, but that’s life. Kyrie Irving was never the most reliable.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with his stance on vaccines or not. Or whether you think his explanation for not getting a jab is rooted in logic or just the latest nonsense from someone who once wondered out loud if the world is flat.
Shut up and dribble should never be applied. This isn’t a sliding scale. This isn’t a situational guideline.
The real world can’t delve into dueling cable news idiocy where hypocrisy is just one commercial break away. This is a grown man. He can do as he chooses.
"You think I really want to give up my dream to go after a championship?" Irving said during an Instagram Live video Wednesday. "Do you think I really just want to give up my job? You think I really just want to sit at home and not go after the things with my teammates that I've been able to grow with, to learn with?"
Irving is an unusual guy. And it’s served him well.
His most famous shot came in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals between his Cleveland Cavaliers and the Warriors.
The final minutes were so tense, that an astounding collection of offensive talent withered in the moment. In the final 4:39, with the score tied at 89, no one could make a shot.
LeBron James missed four times. Stephen Curry missed four, as well. Two of the greatest of all time. It didn’t matter. Klay Thompson missed. Kevin Love missed. Andre Iguodala missed twice. No one could make a basket.
And then Irving bombed in a three like it was just a Sunday afternoon at the park. He was the only one (James would add a late free throw to provide the final 93-89 margin). The game’s most famous play was James’ incredible block of Iguodala, but without Irving’s 3-pointer, who knows if Cleveland finally wins the title?
That’s him. He’s fearless. Or oblivious. Or whatever.
“I’m standing with all those that believe what is right,” Irving said. “Everybody is entitled to do what they feel is what’s best for themselves. Seeing the way this is dividing our world up, it’s sad to see.”
This isn’t his first fight.
He’s long been an advocate of social justice reforms. In the summer of 2020, he argued that the NBA shouldn’t return to play after unrest stemming from incidents of police violence. He donated $1.5 million to help cover the lost salary of WNBA players who chose to work in their communities rather than play.
He bought George Floyd’s family a house. He produced a documentary about the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2016, he joined Native Americans from the Standing Rock Sioux in protesting the construction of an oil pipeline.
Some people who wanted him to shut up and dribble on social issues then … are now applauding him.
And some people who raged at suggestions NBA players should just entertain the masses and not express their opinions … are now mocking him.
In the end, the only one who is right about all of it, the one standing in the middle of America’s big revolving ball of double standards, is Kyrie.
His life. His career. His principles.
Like it or not. Stupid or smart. This time or next.