Tuesday saw the opening of the 2021-22 NBA season, with Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets falling just short of a victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. As the reigning champs, the Bucks showcased their ever-so-present chemistry and rim protection as they took the dub at home. However, one can’t help but wonder what effect the absence of Kyrie Irving had on the Nets’ performance, as well as its impact on their season to come.
Alongside Ben Simmons’ quarrel with the 76ers (which is another story all on its own), Kyrie Irving is a name that hasn’t left the professional sports headlines in quite a while (and here I am, actively contributing).
His rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine has created a buzz throughout the sports world. His status as a part-time player for the Nets earlier in the year has now become subject to a full ban, so we shouldn’t expect to see him in the black-and-white uniform anytime soon. The state of New York requires at least one dose of the vaccine for all athletes and employees working indoors — Kyrie Irving’s anti-vaccine stance has resulted in his removal from the Nets’ lineup for the foreseeable future.
Considering how extraordinary Irving’s ball-handling skills are, his handling of the COVID-19 situation wasn’t exactly as awe-inspiring as his ankle-breaking highlights.
Irving took to Instagram Live to explain — poorly, if I may add — his decision, saying “this is about my life and what I am choosing to do.”
What Irving fails to realize is that this is in fact not just about his life, but the lives of his family, of his teammates and of those devoted, die-hard and ringless Brooklyn fans. Though his acknowledgement that he is willing to accept full responsibility for the consequences of his own actions warrants a degree of respect, his teammates and his organization will be the ones facing those consequences.
Basketball is an art. The Brooklyn Nets have lost a primary color (a funny analogy, since Nets colors are black and white). It doesn’t take an insider to know that Irving’s selfish decisions have thrown the entire Brooklyn organization into chaos: rotations needed to be changed, positions reassembled, roles reconsidered, hopes reevaluated. Star teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden have yet to comment in depth on the situation, but I would imagine the dynamics between teammates to be less than favorable.
Despite their thrilling Game 7 loss to the Bucks last season (a fault which lay almost completely in Kevin Durant’s abnormal shoe size), the Nets undoubtedly remain a championship-caliber team, with or without their primary ball handler. But their chances at the ring would certainly increase tenfold with Irving on the court.
During the 2020-21 season, Irving recorded a plus/minus of 2.96 points, a statistical testament to his immense court presence and basketball IQ. On opening night against the Bucks, his absence on the stage was evident right as the show began. The removal of Irving from the Nets lineup has forced another mediocre-at-best actor to take center stage, and as the Nets’ defeat to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Bucks showed, it wasn’t enough. (No offense to the Nets’ new recruit Patty Mills, who would be the aforementioned mediocre-at-best replacement in this equation.)
It is a shame for sensible fans around the world to witness Irving’s complete disregard for his teammates and organization, especially when he has always held such a humane image, having made donations of over thousands of dollars to organizations such as Feeding America, University of Michigan and the WNBA. Albeit not basketball related, Irving’s selfish mishandling in this post-COVID-19 world will undoubtedly tarnish the point guard’s career. (Though Irving’s support of the flat-Earth theory doesn’t exactly bode well for his image, either.)
Hopefully, as the sun peeks its head out of those gloomy Brooklyn skies, Irving will see the light and realize that a skillset like his can’t be found just anywhere on the New York streets.
If and when Irving comes to his senses, it should be a message to vaccine detractors nationwide. Championing the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, vaccine detractors have labeled vaccine mandates as tyrannical, abusive and even oppressive. These protestors have yet to realize that by displaying a front of patriotism, they will sow the seeds of destruction of the country they claim to admire.
In the meantime, Durant and Harden will have to hold their own as a duo in this league of Big Threes.