Stephen A. Smith: Nets Winning a Championship With Kyrie Irving Would Be a Disaster

Kyrie Irving and James Harden
Kyrie Irving and James Harden / Jason Miller/GettyImages

The Brooklyn Nets are once again considered championship favorites due to their overwhelming talent but the 2021-22 season has been a challenge. Kevin Durant was immaculate until he got hurt over the weekend and will likely be out through the All-Star break. James Harden got off to a very bad start and managed to steady things out but still hasn't reached the same level of dominant MVP-level scorer he was when the Nets traded for him. And Kyrie Irving, of course, didn't suit up for his team until January because of vaccine mandates and will only play road games from here on out until something changes in New York City.

Despite all that, Brooklyn is third in the Eastern Conference and only a half-game back from the first-place Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. They'll likely go on a slide in the next few weeks with Irving playing road games and no Durant, but they'll be fine in the long run as long as everybody stays healthy. Even with a partially-available Irving they feel like the team to beat in the East despite the reigning NBA champions residing in the same conference. That's just how good they are.

Stephen A. Smith, making his long-awaited return to First Take after a battle with COVID, declared it would be a disaster if the Nets won a championship with Irving because of the message it sends-- and he's not talking about the mercurial point guard's vaccination status.

Smith is arguing here that Irving helping his team win a title despite all of his hiatuses taken over the last few years would send the wrong message to the fans and it would be a bad look for the league. Irving is doing whatever he wants, including not showing up for work, then reaping the benefits when he decides to grace everyone with his presence. Smith is not wrong to think it sends a message that may not line up with the values the league would like to align itself with.

But that's the dirty little secret of sports that everybody knows about and doesn't want to acknowledge. If you are talented enough, you can do whatever the hell you want and there will always be a place for you to be paid millions to play a game. We need not look further than Antonio Brown, who has been accused of sexual assault, nearly killed a child by chucking furniture out a window, and is generally a heinous human being yet still gets opportunity after opportunity because he is preternaturally gifted at what he does. His scenario is far more extreme than Irving's but the overarching point is even more clear when looking at the former wide receiver.

It is not a job requirement for professional athletes to be responsible and upstanding human beings to participate. Irving choosing to bail on his team and return based on how he's feeling is a bad look for the Nets and the NBA and it sucks for all the other guys who have to work their asses off to get even a sliver of a shot to play, but there is nobody else on earth that can do what Kyrie Irving can do on the basketball court. When you are irreplaceable, you're given far more latitude than anyone else. This is true in any profession. It just happens to be more true, and far more obvious, in pro sports than anywhere else.

So, yeah. Karmically it wouldn't feel great to see Irving win a chip after doing far less than his fair share of the group project. But that is the nature of the world we live in. As far as it being a disaster? Well, nothing will change whether the Nets win or lose. Disaster is in the eye of the beholder, it seems.