Some people want to be right, while others need to be heard.
Kyrie Irving is all of the above.
Two months ago, the Brooklyn Nets star and vice president of the National Basketball Players Association led a call with over 80 players in which he expressed his opposition to the NBA’s restart.
He didn’t want the importance of the moment to get swept away in boxscores and playoff positioning.
He knew that playing a child’s game wasn’t going to fix adult problems.
He wanted everyone to take a step back because he probably saw this day coming.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving reportedly said on the call. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. Something smells a little fishy.” Shams Charania reported that Irving also said he’s “willing to give up everything” for social and racial reform.
Other players on the call and around the league had their reservations, too. But none of them felt the backlash like Irving. Because to them, why would they listen to the guy who once believed the Earth was flat?
“I love Kyrie’s passion towards helping this movement. I’m with it… but in the right way, and not at the cost of the whole NBA and players’ careers. We can do both. We can play, and we can help change the way Black lives are lived. … Canceling or boycotting a return doesn’t do that, in my opinion. Guys want to play and provide and help change!” wrote Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers on Instagram in June.
By Wednesday, the Rockets’ Game 5 matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed due to a boycott.
“If you take Kyrie Irving’s brain and put it in a bird right now, guess what that bird is going to do? It’s going to fly backwards, because Kyrie right now is confused,” said former NBA player and current ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins about Irving in June.
“He’s showing his lack of leadership. Here it is: Kyrie, you have been on these conference calls over the last two months. You’re the vice president of the Players Association. You have been very involved in all this that’s taking place as far as whether we’re going to play or not. You’ve been on the phone and you voted to play!”
By Wednesday, Perkins was on ESPN backtracking.
Who has the bird brain now?
“Powerful move by the Bucks, but now I’m curious to see what are OKC, Houston, Lakers and Blazers are going to do?!” Perkins tweeted.
No one knows what to do right now.
The people that ridiculed Irving back in June look stupid. While the ones that thought that playing basketball and spreading awareness about racial justice on a court that has Black Lives Matter plastered on it thought it would do some good.
But then, this week happened.
The Republican National Convention kicked off. Police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot Jacob Blake seven times in his back just because he’s Black. A racist White 17-year-old shot and killed people that were protesting in the streets for Blake. And the three police officers that killed Breonna Taylor still haven’t been arrested.
LeBron James is pissed.
Doc Rivers broke down.
The league has no idea how to handle this.
And Kenny Smith walked off the set of TNT’s “Inside The NBA” in solidarity with the players.
At this moment, the players have all the power as only they know when they will take the court again. But what they might not realize is that the power has always been theirs all along. There was always going to be an expiration date on the Black Lives Matters movement in sports. These leagues, teams, and this country aren’t run by people who actually care enough about Black lives to keep this going. Caring about Black people has been the latest trend, but after Wednesday, it’s up to players in the NBA to determine if this is a fad or a turning point.
“It’s cool right now to yell ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but in six months when everybody gets back to normal and it’s no longer cool are they still going to stand by those guys?” Draymond Green asked last month on TNT’s “The Arena.”
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics, they knew what they were risking. And when Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem four years ago, he knew what was at stake.
But that was then, and this is now. And while a lot has changed in the last 52 years since the ‘68 Olympics, it feels like even more has transpired since Kaepernick became a household name.
Sacrifice has always and will continue to be the foundation of change. At some point, somebody has to give up something today so that others can have it tomorrow.
However, this one is different.
Unlike the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950s and the lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s, there isn’t a tangible opponent that these players are facing. Racism and hatred aren’t something you can touch, legislate, govern, or imprison. It’s a terror and mentality that is taught and hard to prove, let alone materialize.
But, that isn’t stopping the Milwaukee Bucks, who were reportedly trying to get the Attorney General of Wisconsin on the phone in hopes of serving some justice.
The greatest export that America has is Black culture and Black athletes. And if this country is going to continue to allow law enforcement to shoot and kill Black men at will, then it seems like Black NBA players have finally decided that they are not going to keep being America’s entertainment so that Americans can escape the realities of racism.
And that was Kyrie Irving’s point all along.