Kyrie Irving has been one of the leading voices among NBA players who say they believe if the league resumes play on July 30 as planned it will shift the attention from the current fight for racial equality.
Irving and Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley have been organizing conference calls with a coalition of players from the NBA and WNBA to discuss the matter. The New York Daily News reports that Irving has also been talking to his Brooklyn Nets teammates about starting a player-owned league.
Irving’s idea about the league reportedly isn’t new and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with not wanting to play at Orlando Florida’s Walt Disney Resort, where all games will be held.
According to The Ringer, he’s spoken about the player-owned league to his Nets teammates as recently as this season.
Once word got out to the press that Irving was proposing starting another league, he reportedly exited one of the group chats.
Last week he and Bradley led a conference call that involved over 80 NBA and WNBA players, along with people from the entertainment industry.
They all discussed what they deemed as the potential harm to the racial justice fight if play resumes.
Irving reportedly has been taking the death of George Floyd particularly hard, and retired NBA player Stephen Jackson — who was a childhood friend of Floyd’s — said that Irving has contacted him in tears about it.
Floyd’s death as a result of a Minneapolis police officer holding a knee on the prone and handcuffed man’s neck last month ignited protests across the nation and abroad.
On Monday, June 15, Irving and Bradley released a mission statement from the coalition that detailed their strong desire to have sweeping change in and out of the NBA.
“We are combating the issues that matter most: We will not accept the racial injustices that continue to be ignored in our communities,” the statement reads. “We will not be kept in the dark when it comes to our health and well-being. And we will not ignore the financial motivations/expectations that have prevented us historically from making sound decisions.”
“As an oppressed community we are going on 500-plus years of being systemically targeted, used for our IP [intellectual property]/Talent, and also still being killed by the very people that are supposed to ‘protect and serve’ us,” the statement continues. “We have had enough.”
The coalition of players also have concerns about the league resuming while COVID-19 still spreads, citing a recent uptick in positive cases in Florida.
But the NBA is still moving ahead with its plans to resume play, as the National Basketball Players Association sent players a manual of health and safety guidelines on Tuesday along with a memo.
“It is critical that every player understand that he has the right to chooses not to return to play,” it read. “Any player who exercises this right will not be disciplined. To respect the decision of those who do return to play, it has been agreed that any player who chooses not to participate will have his compensation reduced by 1/9.26 for each game missed up to a cap of 14 games, even if his team plays more than 14 games in Orlando.”
There’s been at least one person who’s been critical of Irving’s belief that the league shouldn’t be played during the protests, and that’s retired NBA center Kendrick Perkins. While on ESPN’S “Get Up” on Wednesday, Perkins implied that Irving doesn’t have any leadership skills.
“If you take Kyrie Irving’s brain and put it in a bird right now, guess what that bird is gonna do? It’s gonna fly backwards,” said Perkins. “Kyrie, right now, is confused. He’s showing his lack of leadership.”
“Kyrie Irving, right now you are the distraction,” he also stated. “It’s crazy to me because you come out and you do something simply without talking to [players union] president Chris Paul or consulting with [players union executive director] Michele Roberts. ‘Let’s sit out with a plan.’ It makes zero sense and I totally disagree.”
TheScore posted some of those words to Instagram, and Kevin Durant, Irving’s teammate, responded by writing “sell out” in the comments.
Perkins and Durant used to play on the Oklahoma City Thunder together. They’ve been sending shots at each other ever since Durant left the Thunder for the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
As for Irving, he signed a four-year contract for $136.5 million with the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets are one of the 22 teams that would be playing in Orlando. But even if Irving wanted to play in Florida he couldn’t, due to having season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this year. Durant himself also has been out all season since his knee surgery following the end of the previous season. Both Irving and Durant could sit out the games in Florida without any additional financial penalty if their Nets teammates return to the court at the end of July.