Can Kyrie Irving make a return to the NBA? The consensus is that, even if he completes the six items that Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai has mandated for his reinstation to the team, Irving is likely done in the league.
The Athletic conducted an anonymous survey of league executives about Irving’s situation. The 30-year-old former All-Star and NBA champion has already weathered his share of controversies both on and off the court. Singer Kehlani publicly embarrassed the star after it was revealed that she stopped dating Irving to rekindle a relationship with PartyNextDoor. Irving was also roundly derided after sharing his apparent belief that the earth was flat, and as the VP of the NBA Players Association, Irving was said to favor players sitting out the 2020-2021 season instead of playing inside the ‘bubble’ in Orlando, Florida.
Then, just last season, Irving refused to be vaccinated, which led to his only being able to play for the Nets during away games.
But the most recent controversy may be the one that he can’t return from. After Irving reposted a link to the film Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, which is said to contain falsehoods and antisemitic tropes, he came under fire in a city and borough with one of the that largest Jewish communities in the United States. At a subsequent press conference, when Irving was asked to denounce antisemitism specifically, he replied that he could not be antisemitic because “he knows where he comes from.”
His failure to offer a timely apology may prove to be the mistake that could end his career.
“I think Kyrie might not play in the NBA again,” an anonymous GM told The Athletic. That was echoed by other executives who said that despite Irving’s stellar statistics over the years, the accumulating controversies, and his history of injuries might mean even if he returns to the league, it won’t be on long-term contracts. But most execs think Irving will find a home despite his issues.
“No (his career isn’t nearing an end)” a front office exec said. “It’s just like (Latrell Sprewell) back in the day. You have to put everything in historical context. No matter how egregious something is, everybody thinks there’s a Jesus out there that can save them.”
As the NBA is a multi-billion dollar league, execs say that because of Irving’s stellar play when healthy, there may be a team that takes the chance or has a coaching staff or organization that thinks they can handle the mercurial star. In his Nets career, Irving has played 111 games but has missed 128 games to injury and his refusal to be vaccinated.
“I don’t know (what happens with Irving), but it’s really bad where he stands with things and some of the stuff he’s done,” another unnamed NBA front office executive told The Athletic. “It’s very unfortunate, but I do think there’s a team or two that would take him. I don’t think this is (career-ending). I don’t.”
But whether or not there’s a market for him, is likely dependent on if Irving decides to comply with the mandate for his return to the Nets. He and his camp have been silent thus far since the edict was released.