Kyrie Irving is the textbook definition of mercurial. Basketball fans, both devout and casual, are in awe of the on-court abilities of the superstar affectionately known as ‘Uncle Drew’. One of the best finishers and rather objectively the player with the best ball-handling the sport has seen; it is hard to argue that Kyrie’s game isn’t entertaining. Yet, it is this very topic Kyrie receives criticism for. Whether it be his musings on the Earth’s lack of curves, spirituality, or social injustice; many have made it clear the only room for Kyrie Irving, the person, is as a basketball player. To those people, here’s what you sound like:
Professional athletes are paid rather handsomely compared to your average 9-to-5-er in America. Besides the specialization that goes into their craft, the bulk of this pay is due to the astronomical entertainment demand that comes with being one of the best at this athletic feat on the planet.
The NBA is a global game; Africa, Europe, Asia, South America. Of all the professional basketball leagues on the third rock from the Sun, this one — in the United States — reigns supreme. So when Kyrie Irving announced a media boycott, naturally many were incensed. The role model-ification of the select few NBA athletes that reach the pinnacle of superstardom is a large section of the supermax contracts they qualify for. And for that alone, yes, your presence at the microphone is mandatory.
But this actually isn’t the real reason Kyrie needs to speak. It is actually for everything else that his identity is comprised of.
Kyrie Irving’s character as a person isn’t up for debate. He has paid WNBA salaries to help players that wished to opt-out of the season whether it be health concerns or in protest of social injustice. He has donated food and N95 masks to the Native American tribe he belongs to. And the latest news came with former NBA player Stephen Jackson, a close friend of George Floyd, announcing that the Brooklyn Nets guard recently purchased a home for Floyd’s family.
These acts should not come with a but, followed by why his unpredictability in press conferences, statements, or podcasts overshadows his generosity. Kyrie should work on his communication not because the NBA or its fans require it but because the issues that he donates his money, time and energy towards could use an orator of influence to speak on their behalf. Native Americans easily get the short end of the stick, lacking the high-profile civil rights activists that the Black community has had the privilege to have as their representation. To have someone of Kyrie’s stature and intentionality is major and if for no other reason, Kyrie should improve in this category for them. He should use the ‘Summer Jam screen’ afforded to him during the media obligations to speak about issues that many watching may not be as aware of. The goal is to merge the two; to take advantage of the eyes and ears looking only for entertainment and to ensure they leave with education. Dazzle them with your crossover and smooth layups during the game so that they have to stick around and listen to what you have to say after.
What makes the critics sound like Laura Ingraham isn’t that people want Kyrie to simply shut up and dribble but its the assumption that his being has to be completely devoted to basketball. In talking to The Undefeated about how his Uncle Drew film came to be, Kyrie talked about his affinity for musicals; having acted in multiple plays while balancing basketball during his high school career. The real piece of being a role model isn’t what he does on the court, but the normalization of what he does off of it. That he empowers the youth to have and maintain these interests and passions just as much as the work they put in the gym dedicated to their craft.
While we may not always understand the method to the madness, Kyrie has deserved patience from his detractors. Too often in society, we don’t take the time to understand. If it isn’t given to us in the duration of a TikTok video or the character limit of a tweet, we don’t have time for it. We don’t have time to parse through for substance. Kyrie’s actions aren’t just here for a simple, “Respect” tweet and to keep it pushing. They should be first. They should be discussed in the same vein as LeBron opening up a school in his hometown. They should be discussed in the same breath as Kobe Bryant’s Academy Award win. He is this first. And really he should maximize any and all appearances in front of America, and the world, to advocate for the efforts he has so selflessly supported.
Not for us, but for them.