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Journalismism

Shams Charania Needs To See His Teacher After Class

Shams Charania gestures during an interview.
Image via YouTube

Typically the zombified writing of NBA mouthpiece Shams Charania can be enjoyed guilt-free, because he’ll talk about something immaterial, like Pascal Siakam shouting at his coach or the specifics of Lonzo Ball’s contract. These news items have no points of contact with the world beyond the basketball-obsessed, so this master stylist can shine as pure entertainment, as he takes normal phrasings from agents’ text messages, obscures them beyond all human recognition, and throws the resultant slurry onto The Athletic’s site until editors choose to clean it up retroactively.

Charania’s latest work, published Tuesday night, might be the apex of a career-long battle against prose, but it’s tougher to stomach because of how uncritically it gives voice to Kyrie Irving’s bog-standard anti-vaccine views. These are the consequences of The Athletic siccing its scoophound on the rare story with supra-basketball implications. You wind up with sentences that could have been found on a paranoid Facebook meme, only somehow less coherent.

“The Athletic has learned through multiple sources what has been behind his stance and decision to not take the vaccine, reasoning which has not been made public to date,” Charania teases in the second paragraph, as if to prepare the reader for some revelation beyond the familiar anti-vaxxer babble. A few paragraphs later, it turns out to be a common talking point: It’s about control, man. Employers requiring employees to take a safe vaccine that creates a safer workplace must be resisted at all costs—at tens of millions of dollars in cost, even. Irving, who can afford it, is standing up for all the little guys, who cannot. That’s a story you could tell, if you saw your job as faithfully relaying the thoughts of idiots:

Multiple sources with direct knowledge of Irving’s decision have told The Athletic that Irving is not anti-vaccine and that his stance is that he is upset that people are losing their jobs due to vaccine mandates. It’s a stance that Irving has explained to close teammates. To him, this is about a grander fight than the one on the court and Irving is challenging a perceived control of society and people’s livelihoodaccording to sources with knowledge of Irving’s mindset. It is a decision that he believes he is capable to make given his current life dynamics. “Kyrie wants to be a voice for the voiceless,” one source said.

Ignore how Charania managed to squeeze four “thats” into 15 words of a sentence, and focus on how charitably he describes Irving’s views. This section is followed by a boilerplate paragraph about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and its widespread adoption across the league and world. While I’m grateful that Charania bothered to include it, even that paragraph ends on a mind-numbing note: “To be clear, Irving’s stance is not believed to be anti-science, according to sources.”

What is the gap between Irving’s belief and a hypothetical “anti-science” or “anti-vaccine” belief? A responsible reporter might poke around and find no space at all. A scoop-brained doofus will allow the reader to believe that the guy liking Instagram posts from a microchips-in-the-vaccine account actually has some high-minded labor-first stance against vaccine mandates—because, of course, that’s what “sources” have assured him. The scoop-brained insider will treat that stance as legitimate, without pushing back too much, because it’s mission critical to publish this before anyone else. Carrying water for friendly agents is one thing; carrying water for conspiratorial clowns is another. It’d be appreciated if his editors at The Athletic could recognize the difference. Then again, those editors were willing to let this incredible paragraph see daylight:

Irving has made more than $160 million over his NBA contracts and has a massive Nike shoe endorsement deal, so those who know Irving understand he is not driven right now by money, nor cares for inheriting more, but rather the stand for larger issues in his mind that need his support. He’s a seven-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA member and former Rookie of the Year who now stands to lose over $200 million by deciding to use his platform to stand up for his stance of each and every person being able to decide for themselves on whether they should take the vaccine without impacts on job statuses. However, the fact of the matter is there are consequences for being unvaccinated in some industries and municipalities. Just as Irving wants to stick with his principle belief on the matter, policies and requirements are subject to local and federal governments.

What’s your favorite flourish: “Nor cares for inheriting more”? “The stand for larger issues in his mind that need his support”? “Use his platform to stand up for his stance of each and every person being able to decide for themselves on whether they should take the vaccine without impacts on job statuses”? An article this credulous would be more worrisome if it were written in legible English.