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NBA

Kyrie Irving Doesn’t Want To Talk About It

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The Brooklyn Nets have a goal, and that is to become bigger than the New York Knicks, and while nobody believes they can do it because fans are impervious to changes in their mental environments, you have to admire their effort for sheer “Let’s just run naked down Times Square and yell at the tourists” brass.

Monday’s preseason presser featured many things, but mostly the big takeaway was this: Kyrie Irving would like David Letterman to respect his privacy. Oh, and the rest of the world, too, but mostly Letterman.

As the NBA and its players association members allow themselves to be redefined by their multiple and often contradictory reactions to the act of COVID-19 vaccination, Irving has taken the lead in the debate by doing a decidedly more humor-free impression of Marshawn Lynch, and “please respect my privacy” is this year’s “I’m just doing this so I don’t get fined.” See? The second one is way funnier. Irving, though, has never been much about that laughter anyway. His public stances have tended to be rooted in the lyrics to Groucho Marx’ “I’m Against It.”

He knows that this infuriates media types who believe in the traditional “I ask, you answer” relationship, and Monday’s bit of non-performance art had that element all over it. A simple sign in front of the Zoom camera reading “Not interested in chatting, sorry” would have done just as well if the goal was indeed privacy.

But Irving is also being identified as the voice of the NBA’s anti-vaccination movement, and as a vice president on the union’s executive committee he is being made the face of it as well. If this is another seismic challenge to employer prerogatives vs. employee rights, then we’ll find out soon enough. Player empowerment, after all, is all about the word “power” in a business in which the players have traditionally bargained away power for money, and now are considering the notion that they should have both.

Then again, this is also becoming about Irving and his unique view of whatever world he resides nearest at any given orbit, and if he is being made out to be the movement’s designated weirdo for the sake of trivializing the greater debate, then Monday’s no-song-and-no-dance moved that ball down the road as well. In that way, he is becoming as much obstacle as force, mainly just out of dismissive cussedness.

The debate about vaccination has also happened in San Francisco, which like New York has a civic ordinance essentially requiring vaccination and which has its own Sphinxy conscientious objector in Golden State Warrior Andrew Wiggins. His apparent refusal to be vaccinated has already gone through the usual channels, with the city saying he cannot play in the city without the vax and the NBA denying his request for a religious exemption from being vaxxed. The Warriors did their preseason little-show-and-bland-tell later Monday, and Wiggins said more directly that he would keep his vaccination status and stance private, which is millimeters short of asking others not to ask, if that means anything.

The temptation among many is to dismiss the messenger in the Irving case, but we don’t actually know just where Irving’s objections lie. We’re also not sure what the message actually is, only that Irving doesn’t mind and actually seems to prefer that we don’t know. Thus, vilification seems as unjustified as full-throated support. Maybe that’s just baiting the audience, too, since our interest in his disinterest never seems to wane.

But I do know this: Dave Letterman laughs at your privacy, for he can break the sternest of stances. We’ve seen him break Peyton Manning, and Peyton Manning is made of pure corn-fed vibranium. Just ask ESPN.