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The Guardian

Hero, bad guy or giant? Kyrie Irving stays the NBA’s oddest genius

To some the Brooklyn Nets guard is an entitled conspiracy theorist. To others he is a super star millionaire with a conscience Kyrie Irving takes a minute on court throughout a video game versus the Golden State Warriors previously this season. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA Midway through the function movie Uncle Drew, the titular character challenges the coach who drew him and his over-the-hill colleagues out of retirement and into a basketball competition at New york city City’s well known Rucker Park. Feeling tricked into working together for the love of the video game while a $100,000 winner’s reward went actively unmentioned, Uncle Drew turns his absolutely persuading wig. “You just don’t get it, do you, Young Blood,” he states. “This game, the love I got for it – it’s all sacred to me.” Recalling, it was a hell of a performing job by Kyrie Irving. It has actually been 2 weeks given that the 28-year-old All-Star guard was last seen in uniform for the Brooklyn Nets. That’s counting the Barclays Center dates versus Orlando last Saturday and versus Milwaukee on Monday, which saw previous league MVP James Harden back up his axis-tilting trade out of Houston with 66 points and 26 boards in a set of Internet wins. “Personal reasons” was the line Irving provided as cover for his prolonged leave, which ended on Tuesday. And in these quote-unquote unmatched times, just a beast would have believed to challenge him on it. Or a minimum of that was up until a maskless Irving was captured on video commemorating his sibling’s birthday at a jam-packed New Jersey club recently. And while the risk of a $50,000 fine and upwards of $800,000 in docked spend for breaking the NBA’s Covid-19 procedures may have obliged a lower skill to return to work, Irving – whose wage is $33m this year – can manage to push time out, obviously. Days after the maskless birthday video appeared, he was found at a virtual occasion for Manhattan district lawyer prospect Tahanie Aboushi that happened as the Internet played host to the Nuggets last Tuesday. It’s enough to make you question: What’s Kyrie’s inspiration? He has actually been a difficult nut to split given that the LeBron-less Cavaliers got him with the very first choice in the 2011 draft. After publishing 3 successive losing seasons to open his appealing profession, you’d believe Irving would have invited King James when he went back to the Cavaliers in 2014. However Irving mainly brooded over his loss of primacy as the Cavs snapped a 52-year champion dry spell in Cleveland. A forced trade to Boston in 2017 must have marked completion of Irving’s inability complex, however he bristled under the instructions of coach Brad Stevens while freely craving an experienced ensemble. (Never ever mind the 2 increasing stars he had in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, or the veteran experience that Al Horford gave the table.) Signing with the Internet in 2019 was expected to be a homecoming of sorts for the New Jersey-raised Irving – and after that, when a hurt Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan joined him in Brooklyn, the conclusion of a grand strategy that had actually been brewing a minimum of given that Irving and Durant were spied gathering inside a Staples Center tunnel prior to the 2018 All-Star video game. However all Irving has actually done given that showing up in the area is shade his biggest co-conspirator, reject first-year coach Steve Nash and select a battle with the most pugnacious media market this side of the Atlantic. The dissenting position is about par for a player who famously has actually said he does not believe in dinosaurs and wondered whether the world is flat. Playing the contrarian is as much a feature of Irving’s game as his unstoppable dribble and clutch shot-making. And yet: Irving is often justified in going against the grain. On a Ringer podcast last week, writer Jackie MacMullan recalled a years-ago argument she had with Irving about the NBA draft and his contention that college players “should be able to go wherever they want” given that they are not chattel – and damned if he doesn’t have a point. (MacMullan’s cringe response: “Yeah, you are, dude. That’s the way it works!”) When the NBA suspended play last summer, Irving – incidentally, the vice president of the players’ union – was the most notable player to object to a restart, believing that it might steal focus from a worldwide reckoning on anti-black racism following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. And damned if the avalanche of MLK Day tributes from Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pompeo and so many more willfully ignorant Republican lawmakers didn’t prove Irving right on that score, too. Some say Irving’s opposition to the NBA restart was meaningless as he was injured anyway. But the fact that Irving also gave $1.5m of his own money to female peers who opted out of the WNBA bubble over Covid-19 or the social justice movement hints at a deeper thought process. Hell, Stephen Jackson, the former pro and a close friend of Floyd’s, recently revealed that Irving had bought a house for Floyd’s family. Clearly, when it comes to the things Irving does and says – not least moving on from basketball by his early 30s – nothing is out of bounds. Even Uncle Drew, the creaky old man who wrong-foots much younger playground players with his explosive game, plays against type. Only a true artiste like Irving would dare take a character that was intended as a vehicle to sell fizzy drinks and spin it into a basketball version of The Nutty Professor. As for the experiment Irving created in Brooklyn, well, that’s pretty heady stuff, too. Forget the Johnson-Pierce-Garnett troupe that tipped off the Nets’ Brooklyn-era and the James-led Miami triumvirate that augured the modern epoch of player-built super teams. With the Harden trade, the Nets new Big 3 put the reigning champion Lakers on notice: they’re in it to win it all. That they also reflect their local constituency more clearly than any pro team given that the Brooklyn Dodgers – between the long beard, the beanpole, the truther, the hipster coach and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Orthodox Jewish assistant who also happens to be black – means they have finally overtaken the Knicks as New York’s hoops standard bearers. It only took nine years. Then again, that’s the view on paper – which assumes Irving, now that he is back, will be the non-ball hogging third banana on offense while assuming a greater role on the opposite end to help mitigate the loss of rim protector Jarrett Allen. To hear Nets GM Sean Marks tell it last week, Irving couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. But of course there’s no way to know for sure until the mercurial guard returns to work, and even then he’ll still likely remain the toughest read in sports. Does he truly mean to be difficult? Is he trolling? Or is he, as Uncle Drew himself might suggest, “nuthin but a hustler”? Hoops historians will be sorting out Irving’s many complexities for decades. Really, if anything’s for certain about the man, it’s this: keeping the world off-balance is what he does best. Now as for the shape of stated world? Oof. Please. Do not get him begun.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.