Kyrie Irving's ongoing dispute with sports media as an entity continued yesterday when, after the Brooklyn Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers to finish off the season, Irving said basketball wasn't his biggest focus right now. Specifically, he refused to answer game-related questions during his postgame press conference and instead wanted to talk about the tragedies happening on a global scale. Via ESPN:
"I'm not going to lie to you guys, a lot of stuff is going on in this world, and basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now," Irving said. "There's a lot of things going on overseas. All our people are still in bondage across the world, and there's a lot of dehumanization going on.
"So I apologize if I'm not going to be focused on y'all's questions. It's just too much going on in the world for me to just be talking about basketball. I focus on this most of the time, 24/7, but it's just too much going on in this world not to address. It's just sad to see this s--- going on. It's not just in Palestine, not just in Israel. It's all over the world, and I feel it. I'm very compassionate to it -- to all races, all cultures and to see it, to see a lot of people being discriminated against, based on their religion, color of their skin, what they believe in. It's just sad."
This quote caused a bit of a stir. Irving has been rather adamant all season that what he does on the court is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and has made his distaste for answering basketball questions very clear, going so far as to skip most of his media appearances through the early part of the year. This is just the latest quote showing that.
It's a difficult discussion because Irving is right that his significant off-the-court charitable work is more lasting and impactful than any of his dazzling performances during any given game, but answering questions about basketball is part of his job. It's in his contract. He is paid quite a lot of money to play the game he himself believes isn't as important as it's made out to be. Giving the fans the answers they want and helping reporters do their jobs is what Irving is contractually obligated to do, even if he doesn't believe he owes it to anyone.
Pair that with Irving's complicated history with the media and you see why it's such a hot topic. Stephen A. Smith addressed it today on First Take. He did not yell and shout and gesture emphatically, like we're so used to saying. Rather, he gave an extensive monologue about how he takes issues with Irving's constant public statements about these "bigger issues" because it implies nobody else cares about the issues he does.
This will surely only add more fuel to the fire and Irving would likely think it just helps prove his point, but I think Stephen A. is right. It is commendable that Irving cares and cares so deeply he'd like to use his sizable platform to bring attention to the bigger issues. Basketball is fun and a lot of people (including me!) are employed because of it, but that doesn't mean it's the end-all be-all for the world's problems.
But a Nets reporter wanting to know why Irving did something in the fourth quarter instead of asking his opinion about the Israel-Palestine conflict is not the same as not caring about these issues. That's what Irving implies when he takes the grandstand like he did yesterday. I'm sure he doesn't intend to. Irving's desire to make the world a better place through his foundation and activism is not borne from a feeling of moral superiority or a Holier Than Thou complex. It's just how it comes across when he chooses to make everyone's jobs more difficult than it needs to be in the process.
Whether Irving likes it or not, part of his job description is speaking to the media for a little bit after games about what happened. Yes, the issues he's touching upon instead are more important than how the Nets defended Colin Sexton. It is, though, entirely possible to bring attention to the problems he believes are most important while still doing his job as a player speaking to media. Irving may want to consider that course of action if he really does want to divert any media attention, positive or negative, away from himself and towards those issues. Because the way he's doing so now is more noteworthy to the media than what he's actually saying.
Irving has a point that it is overall a bad thing that we're more focused on the way he delivers the message rather than the message itself. But he can't change that by himself. Right now, Irving's actions in the process of getting his message across are drawing more attention than the words coming out of his mouth. Trying to fight against the sports media industrial complex is a significantly bigger battle than just changing the way he gets the message across. To accomplish what he wants, Irving will have to do that eventually.