The player-empowerment era has created more avenues for athletes to flex their own team-building ability, but Kyrie Irving’s Saturday media availability during All-Star Weekend touched on an issue he’s extremely familiar with — trade requests. Irving’s response to inquiries about the topic illustrates his problematic “grass is always greener on the other side” perspective.
“What’s a bad situation and why doesn’t anybody have the ability to ask for trades? That’s my question,” Irving explained. “When did it become terrible to make great business decisions for yourself and your happiness and your peace of mind? Not every employer you’re gonna get along with so if you have a chance to go somewhere else and you’re doing it legally then I don’t think there’s a problem with it.”
The problem is that for Irving, he’s perpetually running into problems with his employers. But, as usual, his lack of introspection led him to blame third parties for the instability that’s plagued his career.
“The speculation and narratives is what makes this entertainment kinda seem a little bit more important, more priority than it actually is,” Irving told the press. “Like, it’s my life. It’s not just a dream that everybody can gossip about. I take it very serious, and most of the work that I do doesn’t get seen so I don’t know if it’ll ever be truly appreciated. But, all in all, when you work as hard as I do or anyone else at a specific profession, I feel like you should have the liberty and freedom to go where you’re wanted and celebrated and where you feel comfortable.”
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Listen, trades are a complicated matter for professional athletes. They’re also inevitable. Player-initiated trade requests are a different animal, though, and Irving’s comments about not wanting to be gossiped about, while meanwhile accepting all celebration, is the definition of hypocrisy. Irving envisions himself as an iconoclast who eschews critical media, but has no problem embracing the benefits of fame. He’s filmed Uncle Drew commercials, a movie, had a signature Nike shoe until a few months ago, and profited off of his platform for better or worse, and yes, he still manages to use his name recognition for the occasional good.
But when he speaks, he’s a walking, talking contradiction. On one hand, trades are a byproduct of guaranteed contracts in the NBA. Players often decry being sent to new cities with little to no notice and point to how unfair that arrangement would be in any other industry. Sure, it would be absolutely hilarious to see studios trade actors, but that’s not how the film industry works these days. The NBA is a conglomerate comprised of 30 separate franchisees.
Irving demanded a trade from Brooklyn because he prefers the security guaranteed money from franchises that are investing nine figures in him, improving their win totals and boosting their brand provides. Yet, he doesn’t understand when he’s criticized for wreaking workplace havoc for teammates, supposed friends, coaches, and front offices that rely on him to be a reliable teammate. In a team sport, Irving is a me-first, me-second, and me-third guy.
There’s nothing wrong with wanderlust. Irving is welcome to go wherever he wants after the season when he’ll be a free agent. Irving’s generation experiences job turnover more frequently than any in the last century. That shift in attitudes is evident in how LeBron James has gone about his business for the past two decades. In the summer of 2006, he along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade signed shorter rookie extensions than the five-year deal available when Carmelo Anthony signed. In 2011, Anthony grew impatient and demanded a trade to the Knicks, which cost the franchise a bushel of supporting players who would have been useful in helping the Knicks win a title. Ultimately, Anthony was eventually traded to Oklahoma City in 2017.
Irving is more than willing to sign a series of one-and-one deals with options in the second season, which the aforementioned James did when he signed with the Cavs the second time. But that would contradict one of his reasons for demanding a trade from Brooklyn, which was hesitant to offer him a long-term contract just so he could sow chaos at inopportune times. James may call himself a king, but at his core he has always been a savvy businessman, who understood the risk assessment that came with turning down long-term contracts in exchange for more sway over the front office.
Irving’s comments echo those of his close friend and former teammate Kevin Durant.
“I don’t think it’s bad for the league. It’s bringing more eyes to the league, more people are more excited,” Durant said. “The tweets that I got and the news hits that we got from me being traded, Kyrie being traded, just brings more attention to the league.”
Durant’s right. NASCAR crashes earn more clicks and eyeballs than a clean race and the same holds true for teams in turmoil. James and Durant’s legacies are unmoored from a single franchise. The difference between Irving and James or Durant is the basic respect he’s shown for the professionals he works with.