Less than three weeks ago, when all was relatively calm in NetsWorld, Kevin Durant said something ominous that was worth filing away for later in the season.
“The vibes have been straight, but who knows what the vibes will be if we hit a skid or if we’re not playing well or if somebody gets injured,” Durant said. “That’s what makes a team is how we stick together through those times.”
Six games into the season, it appears that moment has arrived on the Nets’ doorstep far sooner than expected.
The Nets lost their fourth game in a row, a stunner to the short-handed Pacers, 125-116, to drop to 1-5. The visitors had just 11 available players, and were missing starting center Myles Turner. The Nets were out-rebounded by 19, drawing boos in the second half of their lack of effort on the boards. Meanwhile, rookie Bennedict Mathurin scored 32 points off the bench for the Pacers while Nets wing Yuta Watanabe accidentally had a rebound go off his hands and into his own basket.
And some how all of that wasn’t even a footnote.
The real fireworks came in Kyrie Irving’s postgame news conference and had nothing to do with basketball. Irving, who scored a game-high 35 points in the loss, held a tense and combative news conference that revolved around his recent controversial social media posts linking to a film widely considered to be anti-Semitic.
Kyrie off the court is more frustrating than Westbrook on the court. https://t.co/opu6OTvCzu
— Tim (@TimPeterson_3) October 30, 2022
A quick chronology for how the Nets are living out Durant’s premonition barely two weeks into the season:
On Friday, the Nets organization and governor Joe Tsai released statements decrying Irving’s tweet and a post on Instagram from Thursday before the Nets’ game against the Mavericks. They were about an Amazon link for a 2018 film, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which caused an uproar in response.
On Saturday afternoon, Irving put out a tweet saying he didn’t link to the Amazon film to come off as offensive towards other religions. Pregame, Nash said the organization spoke to Irving about his posts.
“I don’t think our group is overly affected by the situation,” Nash said. “We’ve had so many situations over the last two-and-a-half years I think we’ve kind of built an immunity to some of it. I also think our guys aren’t that familiar with the material. If we get a minute to breathe we can get a deeper understanding to what actually are the details here, then we will, but right now I think guys are trying to focus on the game. I think the organization has stepped up and made a strong statement on their beliefs and you’ll be able to hear from Kyrie when it’s his turn to talk.”
Postgame, Durant said Irving’s posts haven’t impacted the Nets’ recent play.
“Absolutely not,” Durant said.
During his news conference, Irving said he was at home on his phone and Googled his name in Hebrew. He said it translated to Yahweh, a Hebrew word used to describe God. Irving put Yahweh into an Amazon Prime search to see if there were any documentaries about his name and found the one in question. He watched it. Then he tweeted it.
“In terms of the backlash, or what people call it, we’re in 2022,” he said. “History is not supposed to be hidden from anybody, and I’m not a divisive person, when it comes to religion. I embrace all walks of life, and you see it on all my platforms. I talk to all races, all cultures, all religions. And my response would be, it’s not about educating yourself on what Semitism is or what anti-Semitism is – it’s really about learning the root words, of where these come from, and understanding that this is an African heritage, that is also belonging to the people. Africa is in it, whether we want to dismiss it or not.
“So the claims of anti-Semitism, and who are the original chosen people of God, and we go into these religious conversations, and it’s a big no-no. I don’t live my way like that. I don’t live my life that way, excuse me. I grew up in a melting pot. And I say the melting pot of all races white, black, red, yellow, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and you see the way I live my life now. I’m not here to be divisive, so they can push their agenda – I don’t want to say that, because I’m not identifying any one group or race of people – but I’m in a unique position to have a level of influence on my community, and what I post does not mean that I support everything that’s being said, or everything that’s being done, or I’m campaigning for anything. All I do is post things from our people in my community, and those that it’s actually going to impact. Anybody else that has criticism that obviously wasn’t meant for them.”
Irving said he never pushed for anyone to watch the documentary and expressed surprise that his actions were causing more of an “uproar” than the n-word being allowed on Twitter. (For the record, there have been stories and comments about this development, including from Irving’s former teammate LeBron James, who tweeted about it).
Irving accused the media of overestimating his influence in the world, after saying he had a lot of influence on his community. He said his actions weren’t illegal. He added he respects Tsai’s comments, but doesn’t plan to stand down on his views.
“I have a whole army around me,” he said.
It’s not the first time Tsai has confronted Irving on his off-court views when they became relevant to the team. The first took place when Irving refused to get vaccinated.
On Sept. 15, Irving posted a clip on Instagram of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones discussing the New World Order, a conspiracy theory about secret societies within government. Irving said he does not support Jones’ view that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a hoax, for which Jones has been ordered to make payouts to victims’ families, but agreed with him on the New World Order.
“And it’s true,” Irving said. “I wasn’t identifying with anything of being a campaign-ist (sic) for Alex Jones or anything. It’s just here are posts … and it’s funny, it’s actually hilarious, because out of all the things I posted that day, that was the one post everyone chose to see. It just goes back to the way our world is and works. I’m not here to complain about it. I just exist.”
When Irving took the podium for his news conference, he gave his version of events and was combative when asked if he understood why his actions could be taken as either an endorsement or a reflection of his views. When a reporter asked him about promoting the movie, Irving’s irritation grew. He does not see his social media interactions that way.
Kyrie, the self proclaimed voice of the voiceless, always wants to spread his message, but the second he is asked to speak about it in depth and explain, he gets defensive and shuts down the conversation. Truly remarkable.
I don’t want this to be a full on attack of Irving because he genuinely does great things within his community. He might be the most skilled player with the ball in his hand. But that is what makes him the single most frustrating athlete of his time.
But time and time again he digs his own grave with social media posts, uninformed remarks, or blatantly ignorant outbursts.
If he wasn’t so skilled I’m not sure the Nets would be putting up with his nonsense.
Nonetheless the Nets still have a long season ahead of them. The inexcusable loss to the Pacers combined with Irving’s post game interaction did not help.
The losses and distractions are starting to mount for the Nets. How many more can they take before it becomes one too many?