It seems that in life one of the worst things you can do is to be ahead of the curve. By this I mean you have an idea or a plan before everybody else. If you do, you should expect to see some support from like-minded people but the majority of comments will be pushback, ridicule mixed with a lot of abuse.
In the world of sport, Colin Kaepernick experienced this just over four years ago when he took a knee during the national anthem during a pre-season game in Green Bay. Roger Goddell, the commissioner of the NFL, only recently admitted he should have listened to Kaepernick earlier. Four years later!
Well, now the same can be said about Kyrie Irving. Irving did not take a knee but for the last two to three months Irving’s ideas have been the subject of ridicule, abuse, and pushback. This time not just from racist fans. He also took it from a large section of media members especially those who share his skin colour.
Let me give you the backstory. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the NBA came to a halt. Commissioner Adam Silver, the Players Association President Chris Paul, and many others explored ways that would allow the season to be completed in a safe way. They came up with the idea of an NBA bubble. This meant teams would get invited to stay in Orlando and all the games will be played without fans.
So far it has been a success but the players had to agree to this. Now, this is where Irving comes in. Irving as the Vice President of the Players Association asked the players to boycott the rest of the season. Irving believed that playing sports would be a distraction from the ongoing issues with regard to systemic racism and police brutality. He was apparently “willing to give up everything” for social and racial reform.
Irving was not the only one who said this. Other players like Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley also had reservations about playing the season. However, none of the other players received the backlash that Irving received for suggesting it. Irving was not trying to ruin the league as many claimed. He was trying to get the players to see an alternative method to achieve change.
Do not get me wrong you can disagree with Irving. A lot of NBA players believed they could play and continue to be advocates for change. If you hold that opinion that is perfectly fine. However, what Irving received was a barrage of insults. This came from former players and ESPN contributor Kendrick Perkins even said “If you take Kyrie Irving’s brain and put it in a bird right now, guess what the bird is going to do? It’s going to fly back backwards, because Kyrie right now is confused.” Irving was slammed as a disruptor and was continually ridiculed by sections of the media.
Last week, Irving was proven to be right. In the wake of another shooting of another black man, James Blake, at the hands of the police, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game against the Orlando Magic.
This led to a postponement of the rest of the games for the next two days. Reportedly, that the two teams favoured to win the Championship, the Clippers, and the Lakers voted to not finish the season.
This led to boycotts in many other sports such as baseball. The MLS games were called off, the highest-paid female athlete Naomi Osaka boycotted her semi-final tennis match. It was believed at the time that the season might have been in jeopardy.
I love my comedy specials and I remember Eddie Griffin in talking about religion once said “forget the messenger, did you get the message.” This quote stuck with me and it applies in this instance. The media spent all their time assassinating Kyrie Irving’s character, they did not even think to listen to the ideas that he was proposing. To then see some of Irving’s detractors like Kendrick Perkins commending the teams for boycotting, rightly so, was the ultimate slap in Irving’s face.
The question thrown in his face was what has Irving done to help or what was he doing to help? Well, let me tell you. Irving continues to invest in his community specifically in the Tri-State Area and New York City; Irving committed $1.5m to help cover the salaries of the WNBA players who opted out of their season; he produced a one-hour special examining police brutality as related to black women; he partnered with UBS to provide financial literacy program to WNBA players.
Also, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he donated $325k to feed people in America which came up to about 250,000 meals distributed and 200,000 beyond burgers donated to the food banks in New York City. This is amongst the countless other things he does.
Do not get me wrong, Irving has said some wild things in the past, like saying the earth is flat. He would later admit that he was just questioning everything around him and wanted to start a conversation. Well, I once questioned why money laundering was illegal. I did not understand how washing your money with soap was illegal. Will you guys stop reading my ideas? Maybe, but I hope you do not because it was years ago and I have grown up.
What the NBA and WNBA players have done this past week has been amazing to watch. It provides hope that with a united front we can begin to get the change we need. While they will be rightfully praised for their efforts, Kyrie Irving will be forgotten especially by the people who savaged his character. Irving is owed an apology, but from the looks of it, he might not receive one.