Kyrie Irving knows what it means to be an advocate for women's empowerment and equality, advocating for the WNBA in a number of ways in 2020.
So when on Wednesday night, a long-awaited sports milestone took place when Becky Hammon took over for Gregg Popovich as coach of the Spurs, Irving had words of praise for Hammon and appreciation for where things are headed. After Popovich was ejected after arguing a call in the second quarter of a game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, Hammon, one of his widely-respected assistant coaches, moved into the main chair and took over the team.
Irving was asked about Hammon making history during the Nets practice media session Thursday and spoke volumes. The 10-year veteran explained the big picture of a genderless society and the continuing fight for women’s empowerment - outside of the sport’s milestone that took place at the AT&T Center Wednesday.
“It is a genderless society that is going on in 2020 and I respect it,” Irving said. “There shouldn’t be any roles that are deemed for male or female. It should be open. And that should be the principle that we all live by. But there is still a fight and I am grateful to be a part of history and Becky [Hammon] to make history and there is more history to be made for women and their empowerment in the workplace, as well as their respect across the world. You know, especially black native women - but all queens in general.
“So, I am grateful to be a part of that. I am glad Pop got ejected,” Irving said jokingly. “And put Becky in the driver’s seat and got to see her do her thing as well because I know she is well respected amongst her peers and across the whole entire culture [of] sports and entertainment.”
Irving’s words and praise go a long way in the NBA community and beyond, but as he often has, he couples them with action.
Back in July, the 28-year-old committed $1.5 million to supplement the income of any WNBA player who chose to opt-out of going to the WNBA “wubble,” whether because of social justice or personal concerns. The funds came from the KAI Empowerment Initiative, launched by Irving himself. In addition, the program gave all WNBA players access to a comprehensive financial literacy program provided by UBS.
“Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions,” he said then.
Sue Bird, the point guard of the Seattle Storm and one of the greatest WNBA players to lace them up, praised Irving, noting his pledge and his contributions to the WNBA as ‘admirable.’
“Yeah, I think Kyrie [Irving] is the kind of guy, he sees outside himself a lot of the time, extremely unselfish, and this is just another example of that. Obviously, everyone sees the big number, you know $1.5 million, and they can get caught up in that,” said Bird.
“To me, what I love about it is the opportunity that all of us, as WNBA players, will have, if we want is to take courses in financial literacy. And that goes beyond just the one-time offering. It goes well beyond that, and I think what he is trying to do is support women, and support the WNBA. Not just now, but long term, and it is admirable.”
In October during an appearance on “The ETC” podcast, along with Nets teammate Kevin Durant, Irving spoke at great length about the role women played in his life and the WNBA.
“It’s my service to queens that starts at that foundation and that foundation is making sure we protect them. They’re the creators of life and whatever they choose to do in their lives I feel like all males should be supportive.”
In the same interview, Irving went deeper talking about WNBA players who go overseas during the WNBA offseason to make more money. To provide context, the average WNBA player makes $100,658 in 2020. The Nets guard views WNBA players as “sisters.”
“Why can’t we as NBA players have a stake or some sort of type equity in the WNBA team? Those are our sisters.”
His love and compassion for the WNBA dates back even further than 2020.
During a 2016 Team USA basketball practice, Irving publicly praised WNBA players who were also practicing that day. There is no secret Irving is a student of the game and one of the most knowledgeable players in the league. He expanded his knowledge by picking their brains - noting that their talent is great and it is special watching them.
“I watched a lot of them,” Irving said during a 2016 Team USA practice. “Watched a lot of their games and their workouts. [I’m] just trying to learn different nuances of the game that have been forgotten within the NBA. They [WNBA] play with such a unique style. The fundamentals of the game, the footwork, and little things that really make the difference of you being good and great. They are awesome and I legitimately love watching those girls play and then when you java them all here at one time, you have to pick their brain. You have to because some of them would give a few of the guys some buckets - real talk. I don’t say that to sugarcoat but they are very good. I asked them ‘did your dad help you or a specific shooting coach? Do you have a workout guy?’ I get a variety of answers but collectively they are all unique and they bring so much to the game of basketball itself. It’s so special to watch.”
From his words to his actions, Irving has shown his long-term commitment to giving and growing the WNBA - as the late Kobe Bryant, who Irving cites as one of his mentors, did.
Also, back in July, Irving working with Common and Jemele Hill produced a PlayersTV special on the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police ... and participated in a panel discussion around activism
As for Hammon, she continues to blaze a trail and break down barriers. Although it remains to be seen whether the Spurs assistant coach will receive a full-time head coaching job, she is well on her way to earning that position while inspiring others along the way.
There was other news about Irving’s charitable giving on New Year’s Eve. Not long after the Nets Zoom call, Shams Charania tweeted out this news...
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving paid off the college tuition of nine students from an HBCU (Lincoln University) on Dec. 10 as part of his foundation’s 11 days of giving in December.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 31, 2020
It’s the latest in a long list of donations Irving has provided since the beginning of the pandemic. In addition to the $1.5 million provided WNBA players, Irving has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to food banks, hundreds of thousands of meals to hungry and thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment to his late mom’s Sioux nation in the Dakotas.