It’s time professional sports fans come to terms with the fact that we, as a group, know nothing. Sure, we know names and numbers and statistics and can derive probabilities of an event occurring. We can use a modicum of common sense and a method of comparables to determine a rough estimate of what a player is (or isn’t) worth. We can pretend subjectivity is objectivity with the best of ’em, debating things like all-time rankings and who should be etched in a sport’s Mt. Rushmore. But if the Kyrie Irving situation has taught us anything—anything at all—it’s that we know absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.
As fans, we rationalize why a player on our favorite team should consider taking less money to 1) stay in Cleveland or 2) allow for better teammates to be signed given budgetary constraints. We discuss things like home affordability and a burgeoning downtown when it comes to potential free agents or draft picks being added into the fold. We “play the right way.” We “hustle.” We assume, many of us having played competitive sports at some level during our adolescence, that the ultimate goal is to win, but not just win games—win championships. Hell, if anything in recent NBA history is telling us anything, it’s the championship ring that steers most decisions. Given all of this, two of the most recent Irving-related posts on WFNY surround the point guard playing some of the best basketball of his career entering his third consecutive NBA Finals, and the one about his desire to no longer play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In Irving, you have a player who has been the MVP of an NBA All-Star Game and International play. He is on the cover of NBA2K. He has a multi million dollar deal with Pepsi and Mountain Dew. He has one of the most popular sneakers of the past three seasons. He’s hit the biggest shot on the biggest stage and is one of the faces of the biggest apparel brands in the world. Hell, he’s currently traveling through China as a one-man show. Yet here we are, with reports that this man has long been jealous of players like Washington’s John Wall (no shoe deal, no championships) and Portland’s Damian Lillard (he of All-Star snubs who also hasn’t been past the second round of an NBA Playoff series) because they’re the faces of their own respective franchises while he has to share the spotlight with the greatest player on planet earth. So jealous, in fact, that his trade demands would wind up costing him the “super max” contract offer that would net him upwards of $70 million more simply by staying with the team which drafted him.
Let that all sink in.
We can try our best to figure out the wiring that is making all of this tick. Irving has long idolized Kobe Bryant, a player who has been a cold-blooded scorer, looking to take the biggest of shots in the biggest of moments. It was Bryant who Irving Facetimed after the Cavaliers won their title back in the summer of 2016. It was Bryant who demanded a trade from the Lakers, this just years after being unable to play alongside Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant big man of this generation. Behind all of this, however, was winning. Kobe was, by many accounts, the most competitive asshole in the entire league throughout his career. Spotlight was a must, hence the draft day deal to Los Angeles, but it was the title runs that fanned the flames.1
Or has Irving been paying too much attention to the NBA MVP voting, an award that continues to be handed to players who have the ball in their hands at league-high rates? Care not that Russell Westbrook didn’t make it past the first round of the postseason this year—he averaged a triple double and dominated the Thunder’s ball-handing duties and was rewarded by NBA writers come season’s end. He was super unhappy when the folks at NBA2K gave him a “90” rating for this year’s edition, vowing he’d increase that by season’s end.2
“In 2014, Kyrie Irving signed a five-year deal to play for the Cavs, not knowing LeBron James was going to play for them,” Brian Windhorst recently said on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. “He thought he was signing up for five years of a team that would run through the point guard. David Griffin sold him on a team that would be built like Phoenix through Steve Nash… At least at this moment, he’s decided he wants to do that elsewhere without LeBron.”
Much of this runs smack in the face of reported trade demands to teams like San Antonio or Minnesota. In San Antonio, not only do we have one of the top-five players in the league, but a head coach who demands accountability, defense, and a sharing of the ball that has been the half-court lodestar of many other teams, only to have them fail miserably. With the Timberwolves, you have one of the staunchest defense-first coaches in the entire NBA running a team that has stars in Karl-Anthony Towns (who has his own national commercials) and Jimmy Butler. Could Irving really see himself thriving in these areas? Perhaps he feels Kahwi Leonard is too passive to take the spotlight? Maybe he thinks Towns and Butler (and Andrew Wiggins) are merely backup dancers to his below-the-rim theatrics?
In Cleveland, especially with younger fans, Irving is the man. Go to any rec center in the suburbs and you’ll find kids throughout the entire gymnasium wearing Irving’s shoes. His apparel moves. His Uncle Drew character has been a success that has surpassed “The LeBrons” from yesteryear. Sure, LeBron gets the majority of the questions postgame. His words are the ones that drive the headlines. While guys like Kyle Kover and Steph Curry sign autographs after their pregame warmups before every contest, Irving flies off of the floor and into the locker room with in-game speed. Would this change if he were in a different city?
As fans, we cling to so many ideals. We cling so tightly that they become our own self-perpetuating prophecies where players come to cities we care about and they want nothing more than to win for those cities and those fans and they’ll do anything within their powers to make that happen. As a fan, especially in the landscape of super teams and Big 3s, I cannot think of the last time a player desired to leave a winning organization—one that is all but guaranteed a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals—for the chance to have a bigger impact on a lesser team.
As with any story, there is plenty of unknown. There are many questions to be answered. Many details that have yet to be shared. But even as these come to light, us, as fans, will still have as much certainty as we did before this news came to light. And that level of certainty is infinitesimal, if not completely absent.
How things should be is rarely how they truly are.
This Week in Announcements:
- Sorry for no #ActualSportswriting this week. I was on vacation all last week and have had zero time to read much of anything. We’ll be back next week. I promise.
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- Here’s a bonus fifth announcement for you pizza-eating folks out there:
— WaitingForNextYear (@WFNYCLE) July 23, 2017