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STEVE NASH’S DISMISSAL: AN EGREGIOUS ABUSE OF SUPERSTAR ENTITLEMENT
Call them the Brooklyn Nuts — they dismiss a coach who had no chance, replace him with scandal-scarred Ime Udoka, then keep Kyrie Irving days after his support of an antisemitic documentary. WTF?
If I said Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant succeeded in their naked mission — forcing the firing of a White head coach, Steve Nash, so a preferred Black candidate can succeed him — I might be assailed as a racist. So be it. The sentence already is published, but I am not a racist.
A realist, yes. And the reality of today’s NBA — namely, the historically haywire franchise across the Brooklyn Bridge — is that Nash can be out of work in the same explosive timeframe when a Kanye-channeling hater like Irving keeps his $36.9 million salary. Last week, remember, Irving tweeted his support of an antisemitic documentary and drew stern rebukes from Nets owner Joe Tsai and league commissioner Adam Silver. Tuesday, the team responded not by cutting or suspending Irving but by dumping Nash, the Hall of Famer who had no better chance of coaxing defense, discipline or sanity from the Nets/Nuts than a composite of Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson.
And who are they expected to hire? Of course, Ime Udoka, suspended for the 2022-23 season by the Boston Celtics after he conducted an improper sexual relationship with an office subordinate. This gives new and twisted meaning to looney-tunes chaos. The Beastie Boys rapped, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” My rap would be, “How do they sleep in Brooklyn?” Nash will sleep well for the first time in years, knowing whatever deficiencies he had as a coach were overwhelmed by targeted disruption.
This wasn’t merely another dismissal in a sports industry that routinely ziggies coaches. This was the most egregious example of two superstars conspiring to scapegoat a coach while ownership/management lets them have their way, which prompts an existential question: Why would anyone want to be a coach in the 21st century, especially amid the NBA’s player empowerment/entitlement culture? In truth, Durant and Irving were the geniuses who tried to form a superteam with since-departed James Harden and failed miserably. Their coach-killer campaign started when Irving appeared on Durant’s podcast in October 2020 and said of Nash, who was hired weeks earlier, “I don’t really see us having a head coach. You know what I mean? KD could be a head coach. I could be a head coach.”
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Durant said in agreement.
Over the next two years, they mostly pretended they didn’t have a coach. Irving blew off games routinely, sabotaging the Nets/Nuts last season by missing home games instead of obeying New York City’s vaccine mandate. When the Boston Celtics swept them in the first round of the postseason last spring, Durant went on the warpath against his superiors, demanding the heads of Nash and general manager Sean Marks during a face-to-face meeting with Tsai in London. If Nash had been wise, he would have thumbed his nose and fled an impossible job in the summer, just in time to re-join his Manhattan Beach tennis club in southern California.
He stuck it out, true to his legend as a feisty, wildly overachieving two-time MVP and transcendent point guard. Nash never had a chance with Irving, Durant and problematic Ben Simmons on the roster, despite their immense collective abilities. It was Irving who, inevitably, sealed the coach’s fate with his endorsement of “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” and all its antisemitic tropes. The national furor, which dovetailed Kayne West’s recent hate speech, was precisely the distraction the team had to avoid, an outgrowth of Irving’s general discontent and disregard for authority. Coupled with a 1-5 start, the Nets/Nuts saw no choice but to side with Durant and Irving. How does Nash or anyone else control what Irving spews and does? It means the superstars are running the asylum, and, again, I am not a racist. I am a realist.
“We want to thank Steve for everything he brought to our franchise over the past two-plus seasons," Marks said in a statement. "Since becoming head coach, Steve was faced with a number of unprecedented challenges, and we are sincerely grateful for his leadership, patience and humility throughout his tenure. Personally, this was an immensely difficult decision; however, after much deliberation and evaluation of how the season has begun, we agreed that a change is necessary at this time."
For now, Marks keeps his job. How long before Durant, 1 for 1, stalks his second victim? Hell, while he’s at it, why not attempt a coup of Tsai?
Before his in-house contretemps, Udoka was hailed for leading the Celtics to the NBA Finals with tough, gritty messages. The likes of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart bought in — and didn’t stop winning until they were two victories from a championship — but dealing with Irving, Durant and Simmons is a hellish assignment after his Boston honeymoon gone wrong. With their quick pursuit of Udoka, Tsai and Marks obviously don’t care about the inappropriate affair. The question is whether Irving will stop tweeting, as America prepares for 24 months of explosive political rhetoric, and, on the hardwood, whether anyone bothers to play defense.
The likely answers are no and no.
“When things don't go our way, we haven't had enough resilience to fight through," Nash said two nights before his firing. “And that's what we're seeking right now is the resilience and character ... to play for each other and do the little things, the selfless acts, that it takes every day to try to get possessions in your favor, get stops, get rebounds, help your teammates. Without that sustainability and effort and that will, it's not going to turn, so we’ve got to make some decisions."
The decision, naturally, was to get rid of him.
“History is not supposed to be hidden from anybody,” Irving said in a furious defense of his antisemitic tweet. “Did I do anything illegal? Did I hurt anybody? Did I harm anybody?”
In one breath, he acknowledged he can influence opinion with his views, however dangerous. “I’m in a unique position to have a level of influence on my community,” Irving said. “What I post does not mean that I support everything that’s being said.”
In a later breath, he contradicted himself, saying, “There’s things being posted every day. I am no different than the next human being, so don’t treat me any different.”
It’s insensitive, I know, to tell basketball players to shut up and dribble. But that would be the overwhelming advice of an American public tired of NBA dramas that spill into fraught cultural waters. How about listening to the coach, Kyrie and KD? You’re the ones who wanted Nash gone. Now, it’s on you to produce or go away.
“It's on the individuals. Coach can do so much and tell you what to do, but he's not playing for us,” Durant said before Nash’s dismissal. “I know coaching matters, chemistry matters, but at the end of the day, we're individuals. So we got to do better as individuals, and then we'll bring that to the group and figure it out. But each guy's got to just dig down deeper and just be better. That's just what it is.”
And what it isn’t.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question 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 gravitated by osmosis to film projects.