In a time when many in the sports world are using their platforms to be on the right — and wrong — sides of history, Kyrie Irving has been doing the work, despite not having played a game since February.
The Brooklyn Nets star made headlines earlier this week when he committed $1.5 million of his own money to WNBA players that are sitting out this season due to the coronavirus or racial/social justice reasons.
Deciding between your health and the fighting for your people shouldn’t determine if you get paid or not. And thanks to Irving, that burden has been lifted.
“Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions,’’ Irving said in a recent statement.
The move by Irving shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that’s been paying attention to his philanthropy, as the donation to WNBA players was just one of the many ways he’s given back this year.
Earlier this month, it was announced that Irving was partnering with PlayersTV, as he helped produce a television program on the murder of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by three Louisville police officers.
“In a time when society is calling out police brutality, social injustices, and systemic racism, it is critical to magnify how these unjust behaviors and practices are directly impacting Black women. I stand for Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and the countless women whose names are never said but have shared the same unfortunate fate,” he wrote in a statement.
In March, April, and May, Irving donated 50,000 N95 masks and 17 pallets of food to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe – a group that his late mother was a member of – that was distributed across North and South Dakota; 200,000 vegan Beyond Burgers to food banks in New York City; and $323,000 to Feeding America so that 250,000 meals could be provided to New Yorkers in need.
Those in NBA circles can point to 2014 as when Irving began to publicly take an interest in social justice, as it was Irving who delivered the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts honoring Eric Garner to the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room that LeBron James famously wore during lineups.
“Obviously Kyrie was my teammate, so I reached out to him,” Former Cav, and then-Brooklyn Nets guard Jarrett Jack told ESPN in 2014. “I heard ’Bron say something about it when Derrick Rose took the stance on it, so I reached out to my people out here, Excel Sports Management [Jack’s agency], they was able to make it happen, they made a few shirts for those guys happen over there.”
Said Irving at the time: “It’s bigger than all of us. We have to take a stand together. It’s truly important that we do.”
Back when the NBA and it’s players were trying to decide if they were going to restart the season, Irving caused a stir on a conference call when he reportedly said, “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullsh*t. Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
To him, playing during this moment could potentially take away from the momentum that had been building throughout the country.
“He’s not a powerful voice; he’s a popular voice,” ESPN NBA analyst Kendrick Perkins told The DA Show about Irving at the time. “There’s a difference between being powerful and popular. Powerful, you’re actually moving the needle. No one is listening to Kyrie. The NBA is going to continue. All he’s doing is causing unnecessary drama between the NBA brothers that we don’t need right now.”
This year alone, Irving – a vice president of the players association – has donated close to $2 million, while Perkins has done nothing but spew ill-informed and inaccurate takes on television.
Some people walk the walk while others just talk.