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SELFISH KYRIE BETTER TAKE THE LAST SHOT — IN THE ARM
The NBA’s biggest problem-child could sabotage a championship for the Nets, who rightly will bench him all season unless he receives one jab of COVID-19 vaccine to satisfy a New York City mandate
Every NBA championship is decided by shots, mostly three-pointers in the Age of No-Conscience Jacking, 36.7 percent of which actually went in last season. But this season will be disrupted by the shots not taken. In a rude display of defiance and selfishness stunning even in America — where barely one-half the population is fully vaccinated — Kyrie Irving insists on going jabless.
Thus, he will be jobless.
Rather than help Kevin Durant continue his post-Achilles takeover of the sport, help James Harden finally win a title and help the Brooklyn Nets make a historic imprint for a once-forgotten borough and a once-comical franchise, Kyrie will be the epidemiological martyr who serves only one master: himself. He says he isn’t opposed to vaccines, yet he refuses to face the needle anyway, which follows no logic in one of the most nonsensical careers known to sports. All he needs is one shot to meet a New York City health mandate, but he remains entrenched in his foolish stance, preferring to sit out all home games at Barclays Center, lose $17 million in salary and anger team owner Joe Tsai, who won’t let Irving play in any arena unless he changes his mind — and speaks for most of us when he says, “It’s just part of social responsibility.’’
Banning Kyrie was the smartest call for the Nets, who are better off without his latest distraction tactic. He has become one of the colossal wastes of basketball talent in our time, breathtaking on the court and energy-sucking off the court. With a focused, immunized Irving, the Nets would be overwhelming favorites to win this season and maybe launch a dynasty. Without him, they will labor to survive Giannis Antetokounmpo and the champion Milwaukee Bucks. As analyst Reggie Miller said in a TNT conference call, a Durant-Irving-Harden triumvirate could have executed a 16-0 sweep of the postseason, “Before this whole Kyrie situation, as Moses Malone said, God rest his soul, it was ‘four, four, four, four.’ No question. Hands down, they were the best team. It wasn’t even close. Let’s say Kyrie doesn’t play or plays half the games or whenever he comes back or gets traded, to me, they’re still the favorite. But maybe then there’s a (six-game series). Possibly a seven-game series.”
At this point, exasperated by it all, coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks would love to trade him. But no team is desperate and daffy enough to inherit this lunacy and inherit the four-year, $187 million extension that awaits him in Brooklyn. While we usually would appreciate any athlete who doesn’t prioritize money, this is a single-minded exercise in stupidity and typical Kyrie madness.
“This is not a political thing. This is not about the NBA, not about any organization. This is about my life and what I am choosing to do." Irving said on Instagram Live. “You’ve got to make these convictions yourself. ‘Yo, you are going to lose out on money, and you are going to lose out on this.’ So what. It is not about the money, baby. It is about choosing what is best for you.’’
And what is best for a psuedo-intellectual man-child whose ego floats in a distant solar system. It’s almost as if he had to talk himself into his latest attempt to sabotage a team, also his modus operandi in Boston and Cleveland. “You really think I want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship?’’ he said. “You think I really just want to give up my job? Think I really just want to sit at home and not go after the things with my teammates that I have been able to grow with, to learn with, to learn that it takes sacrifice in this space. You think I want to give up my livelihood because of a mandate, because I don't have accommodations, because I am unvaccinated? Come on.’’
Then why not simply seek one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, like 218 million other Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I am staying grounded in what I believe in. It is as simple as that’’ Irving said. “It is not about being anti-vax or about being on one side or the other. It is just really about being true to what feels good for me. ... If I am going to be demonized for having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, that is just what it is. I know the consequences of the decisions that I make with my life. I am not here to sugarcoat any of that.
“This is my life. I get to do whatever I want with this, this is one body that I get here. And you are telling me what to do with my body. ... This has everything to do with what is going on in our world. And I am being grouped into something that is bigger than just the game of basketball. Nobody is hijacking this voice.’’
Yet, Irving thinks it’s perfectly fine to hijack a franchise, hijack a title quest, hijack a league that needs some modicum of normalcy after two pandemic-muddled years. He is fortunate Durant, whose miraculous return to elite form would be completed by a championship, is trying to be understanding. “I wish none of this stuff would happen, but this is the situation that we are in. Kyrie made his decision on what he wanted to do and he chose to do what he wanted to do, and the team did the same,” he said. “It's on me to just focus on me, and do my job, and let those two parties handle that situation. I want our whole team together, and I want us to be at full strength, but sometimes it don't work out that way. But I am still positive things will work out the best for both parties.”
At least Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich has a specific reason for his reluctance. He cited religious reasons when seeking an exemption to meet compliance with the state’s vaccine mandate, but as of early Sunday, his request hadn’t been approved. Rolovich is due to be removed from his job Monday without the exemption, but now there’s a curious wrench: The Cougars beat Stanford, 34-31, to extend their win streak to three. Even if the exemption is approved, Rolovich has received no assurance that athletic director Pat Chun and university president Kirk Schulz will keep him.
“If that's not what (Chun) wants, then I guess that then I gotta, I gotta move on," said Rolovich, whose players showered him with a Gatorade splashing Saturday. “But I like being here. I like being the coach here. I love these kids. And I just got faith in it.’’
Does he realize no college program will hire him without the jabs? Is it worth it, Coach, to lose your means of employment?
While Irving won’t get the shots, we await the result of a mess in Philadelphia, where The Man Who Won’t Take Shots continues to hold the 76ers hostage to his whims. Ben Simmons has reported to the team, only to stop a financial drain that cost him $1 million during his holdout, but his continued presence only will cause tension. A report leaked last week about Game 7 of the Atlanta series, remembered for Simmons’ timid reluctance to attempt an open dunk near the end of the loss. Now, teammates are said to be questioning if he used a bogus story about possible COVID-19 exposure to a team masseuse — when none are sure he actually had seen her. True or otherwise, those stories are poison in a locker room.
Think this rupture is repairable? To hear Joel Embiid, the resident superstar and leverage wielder, it appears the only option is to trade Simmons. “The situation is weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives,’’ Embiid said. “Some guys rely on the team being successful to stay in the league and make money somehow.’’
Like Irving, Simmons only cares about himself. They are two ticking bombs best left to their own devices. Both deserve to be in outposts such as Sacramento or Orlando, where they can do no harm to dreams. All of which means all eyes turn to Hollywood, where the Lakers await the melding of LeBron James and Anthony Davis with another potential saboteur, Russell Westbrook. Already, they are pleading for time and patience, after a preseason when Westbrook was a turnover machine.
“It's going to take a minute for us to become the team that we know we are going be capable of being,’’ James said.
“It could take all year to really be at our best," coach Frank Vogel said.
The NBA season begins Tuesday. Is anyone ready for it? What we do know is that Kyrie Irving is appropriately suited for his cave, alone with his fears, unreasonable as they are. “We knew what we was getting ourselves into,’’ said Durant, “if something like this would happen.”
But the Nets never could have known their biggest obstacle to glory wouldn’t be the Bucks, the Lakers, the Warriors … but Kyrie Irving. The concept of who gets the last shot, to decide a championship, has taken on new meaning.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he has gravitated by osmosis to film projects.