You can’t win a chess match without pawns: A lesson Kyrie Irving needs to learn

In the four years as teammates in Cleveland, LeBron James tried to pass along his wisdom to Kyrie Irving, both on the court and off. Though the two are entirely different human beings, and likely wouldn’t ever communicate if it weren’t for a common interest of basketball, Irving did pick up some of LeBron’s teachings. But for arguably the most valuable lesson to be taught, Irving must have been absent.

Either you control the narrative or the narrative controls you.

That was something LeBron learned the hard way in his career. He was the most scrutinized teenager in league history. Then the most dissected league MVP. And still til this day one of the most nitpicked athletes the world has ever seen.

But at some point during his four years in Miami, LeBron figured out the media. The once resistant and rigid interviewee quickly became one of the most savvy, aware, and thought provoking interviewees in the game.

Whether it was watching Dwyane Wade talk to the media every day and learning the Heat way or the hiring of a new personal publicist or some combination of them, James figured out the benefit of talking. When he returned to Cleveland, he was always available. Every day. There were days on the road when, after a practice, James would seek out the beat writers and ask if we needed anything. 

Answering the same questions every day is tedious. I’d get sick of me after a while, too. But by making himself available every day, James has a loud voice in what gets written about him. He is helping to sculpt his legacy. Say nothing and everyone else does the talking for you.

That’s the dangerous road down which Irving is embarking with his media blackout this year.

“I do not talk to Pawns,” Irving wrote on his Instagram account Friday, referring to the media as chess pieces. “My attention is worth more.”

I’m not in the business of ripping into Irving for his attack on journalist, that will only strengthen his preconceived notion of the media. I won’t even blame him for taking this the distance and not saying a single word to the media, it is only hurting him. But what I will do is wonder.

I’ll wonder if he’ll look back one day and regret not trying harder to get his messaging out.

Irving comes with the nonsensical baggage of believing the earth is flat and calling KD the first teammate he’s ever felt confident in taking the final shot. But he has done so much good for those in need.

Irving donated $1.5 million over the summer to help cover the salaries of WNBA players. He has donated more than $300,000 to Feeding America during the pandemic and partnered with City Harvest to donate 250,000 meals across New York to people in need. He became an investor in Beyond Meat after adopting a vegan lifestyle and donated 200,000 Beyond Burgers this year to New York’s largest hunger relief organization. There are plenty of other examples, such as the $100,000 he donated to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation when he began digging into his heritage and that of his late mother, Elizabeth. He was one of the loudest voices in resisting the league’s bubble restart over the summer. He wanted to let the changing times of the country play out without the distraction of sports. 

Irving could talk about all of this at length, not for a pat on the back, but to bring awareness to the causes important to him. In turn, it could drive more assistance and funding. 

Irving is immensely talented. His creation of the “Uncle Drew” character is proof his gifts extend far beyond basketball. 

And that is why all of this is ever more frustrating. Irving has the ability to use the media to his benefit. He has the track record of truly caring about important causes, and then putting his money and time where his mouth is. The media or “pawns” could further expand his message and off the court ventures.


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