Kyrie Irving: How Jealousy, Disinterest, and Biases Can Ruin a Reputation

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 31: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on January 31, 2020 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Brooklyn Nets defeated the Chicago Bulls 133-118. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 31: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on January 31, 2020 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Brooklyn Nets defeated the Chicago Bulls 133-118. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving drew heavy criticism following his conference call on Friday, but a case can be made he might not deserve it all.

Last week, Adrian Wojnarowski nicked named Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving as “the disruptor,” granting him a title with negative connotations despite Irving’s genuine and moral intentions behind his call for NBA players to sit out the league’s plan to resume play this year. Unfair or not, this inappropriate nomenclature describing Irving gives way to an even larger phenomenon.

Unless you strongly resemble Mr. Burns or Ebenezer Scrooge, then you most likely enjoy rooting for someone who looks out for, fights for, and genuinely cares about the “little guy.”

Stepping into that role last weekend stood Kyrie Irving after holding an 80+ person conference call including several prominent NBA and WNBA players, covering topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement amongst others and their relation to basketball, but despite his goodwill, he remains under fire.

As the VP for the NBA Players Association, a job that tasks him with representing his fellow NBA colleagues, Irving simply went to work, bringing up several important discussion topics coinciding with the league’s plan to hold the season’s concluding segment in Orlando.

Once news broke detailing Irving’s conference call Friday night, most wasted no time to respond negatively, with some high profile NBA minds referring to Irving as selfish even before Woj stamped him as “the disruptor.”

Following the Orlando plan’s unanimous support during a vote last week, this news revealing Irving as the main leader behind the movement against the Orlando plan naturally instilled some confusion amongst NBA fans, quickly causing them to jump the gun and paint Irving as someone gleefully throwing wrenches into the league’s plans.

But perhaps this recent display of disgust directed at Irving goes beyond just his actions this week. Once reading further into the reports illustrating what actually occurred during the conference call combined with the world’s immediate reaction to it, this proposition gains even further stock.

After reading beyond just an article’s headline or a singular tweet, the details behind Irving’s conference call illustrate how Irving simply expressed his candid wishes to just maintain the serious and necessary discussion amongst NBA players dealing with systematic racism, offering a chance for others besides himself to speak their minds following last week’s meetings and defend those unable to defend themselves.

The Nets point guard even earned some praise from other NBA players for stepping up and serving as a voice for change, but that headline remains far quieter than the ones belittling him.

Reports from Chris Haynes also stated that Irving concluded things mentioning that although he opposed the league’s blueprints to resume play, he plans to stand by his NBA colleagues no matter what collective decision the group planned to move forward with. But once again, this narrative failed to gain any serious traction, as “the disruptor” nickname instead stole the spotlight.

Whether or not you agree with Irving about the NBA’s return and its place within the Black Lives Matter movement, the hatred thrown Irving’s way which continues to grow even more easily susceptible to for fans remains entirely unwarranted.

To understand how harboring these disgustful feelings for Irving became such an inviting habit, and with that, one practiced almost universally by all NBA watchers, Irving’s past requires further reflection.

The Uncle Drew/Cleveland Stage

Joining the Cleveland Cavaliers during the team’s first post-LeBron era, Irving entered the league as an incredibly easy player to root for.

Although most first overall picks rarely inherit good situations, Irving’s stuck out from the past as one distinctly woeful, as the Cavs just lost easily their best player now only held onto laughable components for a recently Eastern Conference championship team behind for Irving to play with.

The team later proved exactly how dreadful Irving’s scenario really was after going 78-152 over his first three years.

Horrible teams such as the 2011-2014 Cavaliers never really contended with anyone, and with that, they fail to create any real enemies or rivalries.

If anything, they generate sympathy, especially for any clearly talented players handcuffed to a franchise offering little to no help. Although it may be difficult to recollect at this point, Irving once stood as an incredibly well-liked player due to these circumstances

His highlight-reel and social media-friendly gameplay allowed him to become a fan favorite early on as well.

Ten years ago, almost nobody referred to “handles” as a term relating to basketball, but today, a simple hashtag search on Instagram reveals over 500K posts with a notable amount displaying Irving and his all-time great ball skills.

As the modern godfather behind the “ankle-breaking” highlight reel which grew with popularity in accordance with social media, Irving earned support from younger audiences more acclimated to this new way of consuming basketball.

During this time as well, Irving starred as “Uncle Drew” during various Pepsi commercials. The well-received ads allowed Irving to acquire fans, especially outside the Cleveland area, showing off his playful side by dressing up as an elderly man before putting on a show against various every-day basketball players once after his hidden NBA-level skills.

The commercials gained so much love from fans that Lionsgate eventually turned the idea into a movie with Irving reprising his role alongside other NBA and WNBA greats.

Although further down the road, Irving also cemented his place as an NBA great, sinking the championship-clinching shot for the same team which drafted him way back when not even a playoff berth seemed within their reach.

Coming back from down 3-1 and delivering Cleveland its first championship since 1963 comes as an achievement for Akron native LeBron James first and foremost, but Irving’s prior efforts while aboard the Cavaliers before any fruitful possibilities such as a championship became imaginable certainly earned him some unsung respect.

But that all came before Irving left Cleveland, then Boston, and became “the disruptor.” Having built up an appealing persona, Irving’s trade request away from King James and the reigning Eastern Conference champions not only caught Cavalier fans by surprise, but left them feeling incredibly sore.

Due to his initial rise as a Cleveland legend and fan favorite, his decision to turn away from it all naturally broke the hearts of Cleveland fans, especially due to his large role in mending those hearts just two years ago after bringing the city a long-awaited championship.

For someone who never quite fit in, previously caused trouble within the organization, or just failed to live up to expectations, a choice to move onto something else might meet acceptance and minimal hostility due to the mutual components within the relationship.

But at the time, Irving remained a figure with an entirely opposite scenario surrounding him. Instead, Irving still appeared as a hero through almost every fan’s eyes after defeating Golden State’s 73-win team, generating endless laughs with his Uncle Drew commercials, entertaining play style, and history with the Cavs.

This led Irving’s decision to feel like the ultimate betrayal, similar to cinematic sequences like Salvatore Tessio’s mutiny in The Godfather or Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

Once Irving revealed that he no longer reciprocated the love and commitment offered to him by Cleveland fans specifically, things naturally turned ugly, as all relationships do when dealing with circumstances that include a figure, who once attained universal appreciation, sheds their “savior” costume and reveals his formerly buried disinterest.

Unfortunately for Irving, this brought about a negative response typical to our human nature, similar to how compassion and appreciation with a significant other quickly turns to hatred and disgust following a breakup.

But does Irving truly deserve the criticism formerly applied by primarily Cleveland fans and today rehashed by those referring to him as a disruptor?

Although it indeed forced his departure to sting a bit extra, the championship which he helped deliver two years prior stands also as a reminder illustrating what he offered to the city before deciding to move on.

Having already brought the city a championship, an ideology arguing that Irving no longer owed this team anything more holds some serious legitimacy.

This kid from New Jersey, who with no personal ties to Cleveland whatsoever, only wanted out from an already tough city to live in. But even after going above and beyond by delivering a championship, which is more than can be said for other players who made similar decisions like Tracy McGrady or Shaquille O’Neal, Irving still fell under heavy scrutiny.

Paired with this reasoning, James’s firm presence at the time as not only the team’s, but also the entire world’s best player also helps present Irving’s case for departing Cleveland as one more understandable once looking beyond the surface of the situation.

Not too long ago, Irving sunk arguably the greatest shot in NBA Finals history, but even with that shot coming alongside his 27.1 point per game average during the series, we only talk about how “LeBron came back from 3-1” despite basketball remaining a team sport. We never say “Kyrie came back,” and we only rarely say “the Cavaliers came back.”

Very few people understand the toll all that noise likely took on Kyrie, let alone those who continue to cast stones toward his direction. But unfortunately for Uncle Drew, the factors beginning with the height he formerly attained, followed by the outrage eventually spurred by this said height combined with his downfall, outweighed the fair reasoning behind his decision to move onto another team.

Onto Boston

This anti-Irving mindset only grew more contagious during Irving’s two-year stint with Boston. Although his split with Cleveland certainly brought about some new negatively toned feelings about the superstar point guard from the NBA as a whole, his time with Boston took things to another level, eventually ending with Irving perceived by many as a full-blown villain.

Equipped with a young and talented ensemble behind him, Irving finally became “the guy” with the Celtics during his first season, but after enjoying arguably his best campaign now fully emerged from LeBron’s shadow, Irving injured himself just before the playoffs began and missed the entire postseason.

At the time, Irving’s injury seemed certain to end Boston’s championship aspirations. But instead, the young crew which formerly ran behind Irving took charge, missing the NBA Finals by just one game.

Although Irving returned for his second season with the Celtics next year, the run which the team went on without him planted the seeds for even more distaste directed at Irving to eventually ripen.

Having already achieved so much without their best player, expectations naturally shot sky high for the team ahead its next season. Consequently, when Boston failed to even ascend past the second round, Boston journalists smelt Irving’s blood in the water and attacked accordingly.

While Irving indeed set himself up for failure once guaranteeing a better outing from himself following an uncharacteristically bad playoff performance where he shot 7-of-22 with an even worse 6-of-22 game, worse things than misplaced confidence within a player certainly exist.

Regardless, with this tough look combined with the background knowledge that the team performed significantly better the year prior without him, a narrative endorsing the idea that a future for the Celtics without Irving might prove more fruitful began to take shape.

At that point, a quiet disinterest within the city for Irving began to swell. This chatter alone, combined with Irving’s option to potentially enter free agency looming overhead as well despite his public statement during the season’s earlier days about his plans to stay a Celtic only added further fuel to the fire which eventually left the two sides at extreme odds.

As we all know, Irving eventually chose to leave the Celtics and join the Brooklyn Nets, certainly earning him the “most hated by Boston fans” title, but once again, perhaps all this hate for Irving might not prove properly justified once you really get down to it.

While Irving’s failures during his only playoff run with Boston remain entirely his fault, the expectations which he inherited from his team’s success the year prior came as a burden he never asked for nor deserved.

Also stemming from this, the Boston media seemed to turn on Irving just as he turned on the city. Several famous Boston sports personalities including outspoken former Celtic Kendrick Perkins spoke poorly on Irving’s behalf far prior to his decision to sign with Brooklyn.

Related Story. Kevin Durant Calls Out Kendrick Perkins for Kyrie Irving Criticism. light

Yes, Kyrie chose to ditch Boston earlier than originally stated several months ago, but the city eventually replied with heavy implications that they never wanted him back at all.

Even immediately after walking off the court following the team’s loss to Milwaukee, Celtic fans greeted their point guard with boos and insults claiming that he “sucked.” Popular Barstool Sports personality and noted Boston sports fan Dan Greenberg even published an article following the game where he called Irving a “gutless coward.”

Rumors moved through the team’s locker room as well, with many claiming that Irving’s own teammates partially blamed him for the team’s ultimate demise.

All the while, Dave Portnoy, who perhaps wields the most appreciated and listened-to voice throughout the Boston area also issued a vulgar statement endorsing Irving’s departure from the team far before the season even ended. Does that sound like a city you might want to ditch as well?

Behind it all, though, most people forget Irving never chose to play for Boston and was instead traded there.

Although he indeed requested to leave Cleveland, Irving never selected the Celtics as his chosen team to play for.

While not entirely innocent by any means, Irving might not deserve all bitterness still drifting his way from the Boston area, as he once again inherited several dooming factors, all undeserved and unasked for once becoming a Celtic.

Also having already upset one fanbase, it became incredibly easy to put all the blame on Irving, covering up any unwelcoming and hostile actions on the city’s part with a “he’s doing it again” sticker.

Two Teams with One Stone

Having left Boston fans exceedingly angry once the reports surfaced that Irving indeed planned to leave the team, Irving finally became a free agent with a chance to sign with not a team that merely drafted him, not a team that traded for him, but a team he grew up rooting for and closest to his hometown.

But Irving’s decision to join the Nets, unfortunately, turned not just one entire fanbase against him, but two, with the second one even inhabiting the city which he plays for today.

Although at this point any pictures photoshopping New York Knicks jerseys onto not just Irving but also his teammate Kevin Durant exist as just cruel jokes thrown towards any endlessly tortured Knicks fan, for a few weeks last summer, they instead inspired true optimism and excitement for the MSG faithful. Having controversially traded away Kristaps Porzingis months earlier, the Knicks set themselves up to go all-in for Irving and Durant with two max-slots available.

But during this period, the Knicks front office, unfortunately, teased their starving fans with their misplaced ambitions and eventually unfulfilled goals to bring the team back into relevancy by adding two superstar players.

With Irving and Durant headed to the Barclays Center rather than The Garden, Knicks fans naturally developed some hostile feelings for Irving especially because they felt burnt by him when in fact, the Knicks front office committed the real crime by setting themselves up for a home run and then proceeding to strikeout.

Like Boston’s, the Knicks’ media personalities played a significant role as well. Incredibly popular ESPN personality Stephan A. Smith almost guaranteed that Irving planned to sign with the Knicks last summer, even stamping a 95% chance on it.

Irving himself never once hinted at joining the Knicks, but due to the team’s recently freed up financial situation and their fans’ wild imaginations, his choice to join the Nets still seemed like a diss to those supporting the orange and blue.

As a natural response, Knicks fans grew to dislike Irving at similar levels to those from Boston and Cleveland over just a matter of weeks.

Last summer Knicks fans also experienced the final and most widely shared reason to dislike Irving, putting them right beside Boston and Cleveland fans especially.

Due to his young age combined with his already HOF level skillset, pure jealousy still plagues all three fanbases, having to harbor the fact that they let such a unique talent slip through their hands.

While this factor remains something which fans will never admit, it still burns the deepest, as every time the Knicks start the constantly mocked Frank Ntilikina, or the Cavs send out the good, but not superstar-caliber Collin Sexton, the lingering memory depicting a time which they either held or almost held a top-three point guard within their grasps likely stings at an unimaginable level.

Adding further salt to the wound, Irving also singlehandedly beat the Knicks at The Garden during the NBA’s inaugural week this year, showing Knicks fans first hand what they missed out on, consequently driving them mad with rage.

Boston fans especially formulate the hardest group to admit any potential jealousy, as their stance as a top tier Eastern Conference team despite losing Irving this year remains an incredibly fair argument.

But, unavoidably, most Boston fans deep down must still wish that things worked out with Irving, as their older and noticeably less-talented replacement appears as an all-around downgrade at the point guard position from a talent-based perspective no matter how you look at it.

Excuses such as “he’s a bad fit” or “he caused too much trouble,” might help coat this unsightly truth for Celtic fans, but when you really get down to it, the better, more talented players win games, and very few stack up better than Irving.

With all this jealousy spurred from a completely fair decision where the worst thing Irving did was make good on his longtime dreams to go play for his hometown, it eventually evolved and snowballed into further hatred and disgust, leaving us where we stand today.

Where do we go from here?

With three fanbases now whole-heartedly demonizing Irving and consequently helping continually breathe life into the anti-Kyrie narrative, every step which Irving takes, no matter the situation, immediately meets strong resistance and animosity. This has even gone so far that Irving’s recent actions aimed at helping promote social justice within the NBA, which remains a clearly selfless deed and one surely within his jurisdiction as an NBAPA VP, received an incredibly poor response with fierce resistance and neglect.

Kendrick Perkins, who we know stands as no stranger to Irving criticisms, led the charge against the former Celtic, taking several foul-mouthed shots at him this week both on TV and social media.

For an act with clear beneficial intentions to meet such strong defiance, especially when considering Colin Kaepernick’s recent vindication this month, something extra must be behind it all.

Upon reviewing his career, this jealousy giving way to hatred, which eventually materialized into a strong bias against any action Irving might take stands as this extra component.

Almost tragically, once reflecting on exactly how these feelings about Irving arose within NBA fans, a strong case also certainly exists arguing for Uncle Drew’s innocence and that all the negativity surrounding him comes as simply an unjust punishment for a few crimes deemed questionable at best, grossly exaggerated by upset fanbases.

A reconciliation from Boston, New York and Cleveland fans might never play out, and to expect and/or endorse one certainly feels like a fool’s errand at least at this point.

Irving might not strike one’s mind as the most ideal role model for young NBA players, but we should think twice before we lazily cast him into yet another antagonistic role, especially once considering the integrity behind his latest move.

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Several other NBA players built up villainous personas during the NBA’s 74-year history having done so by far uglier and intentional means than Irving. Especially with the climate sweeping through our country today, some open-mindedness going forward would surely benefit Irving, some other future players, and the league as a whole.