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Kyrie Irving talks about the world and basketball ... and the balance between

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Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

For the first time since he stepped away from the Nets on January 5 — seven games ago, Kyrie Irving spoke to the media Tuesday, one day before he’s expected to return to the court vs. the Cavs. Although he avoided talking specifics, the Nets guard said his absence was due to “family and personal issues” and apologized to fans, noting he started as one of them.

In addition to his apology, and his general comments about the need for a “pause,” Irving spoke as well about how he understands the need for “mentors” and mental health as he tries to balance what is not, as he said, “a normal life.” As for basketball, Irving addressed the acquisition of James Harden, which took place a week into his absence, and the road ahead for him and his basketball team.

Overall, though, the Zoom conference call with the media was mostly devoted to larger issues and the balance between activism and basketball. It seemed cathartic as well as explanatory for Irving. And so here’s what he had to say ... in detail.

Later, Irving posted to Instagram, saying simply, “I am human. No different than you. I am healing.

“Just a lot of family and personal stuff going on so I just want to leave it at that,” Irving said talking about why he took a step away. Beyond that, the politically active Irving spoke about the “huge” responsibility he feels to serve his community and trying to balance the sacrifice and compromise needed while he’s in uniform with that responsibility.

“Just a separation between what is going on here when I am playing professionally and what is going on out in the world,” Irving explained. “If you don’t create that distinction then it’s easy to fill the weight of the world while you are going out there and playing.

“I’d be lying sitting here and saying that I don’t feel what is going on in the world and nor I am paying attention to it. I just have a huge responsibility to continue to serve my community that is underserved and when I am out here playing, it is to continue to lead knowledge with these guys and commit to something bigger than ourselves.

“This team and environment here, or just in basketball in general, takes sacrifice and compromise. We got to come to an agreement and stay balanced to this long journey so that is all I am trying to do.”

Irving didn’t volunteer nor was he asked for specifics about what he meant by “what is going on in the world,” but reports suggested he had been upset by the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on June 6, the day following the last game he played, and how mostly white rioters had not faced what black demonstrators have faced.

Throughout his time away from the Nets organization, his teammates, including those dealt in the Harden deal, publicly showed their support for the superstar. Irving said he saw the support as great not only for just himself but his family. Irving said he takes full accountability for his absence and has had conversations with each of his teammates.

“It’s been great,” Irving said about the support and the Nets organization. “It has been enough support for me to feel like they had my back and that is all I can ask for. It is not only important for me but for my family. I am a hometown kid so things hit a little differently when family and personal stuff is going on. That is up to me to handle that as a man.

“I take full accountability for my absence. With the guys, I just had a conversation with each one of them and we move on.”

Irving has repeatedly discussed how basketball, as entertainment, doesn’t measure up to the level of larger issues affecting various communities, but as someone who grew up as a Nets fan in New Jersey, he addressed what he called fellow “fanatics” as well as the casual fans.

“The beautiful thing about that is that I started out as a fanatic and I started off as a fan. I have been invested in this organization since I was a kid,” Irving said. “Now that I am in this role as a player, it was quite a difference. The fans out there - I want to apologize to them as well. My commitment has always been to bring something special to Brooklyn. It wasn’t just a championship. It was unity, equality, and just bigger things than just the game itself. It took quite a while and quite a few valleys to get back home initially.

“For me, I am just taking every day being grateful. For the casual or the fanatic, it is part of our culture. I am back, I am happy to be back. We got some great pieces and we just move on. I let my actions and my game speak for itself like I planned on doing. I just needed a pause.”

Irving also said his beliefs, his activism, doesn’t effect his love of the game ... no matter what pundits may say.

“I love to play. It’s never been a question of committing myself,” Irving said. “When this wasn’t even a thing for me, I didn’t really care about media, didn’t really care about the fandom. All I care about is the ethics of the game and being taught the fundamentals. Now that’s become bigger and is more of a responsibility that I have in this position I’m in, I’m grateful because I’m able to stand on this platform alongside others that have sacrificed and are going through similar things. So I’m not alone in this. That’s the big thing about, also, mental health; coming in and being balanced with yourself first and then being able to perform.”

He did speak about how he sees in the world and how it compares to “a ball going through the rim.”

“With everything going on in the world politically, socially; like I said, it’s hard to ignore. I want to make changes daily. There are so many oppressed communities, so many things going on that are bigger than just a ball going through the rim. It’s the balance of it, of knowing that I can delegate my responsibilities off the court to people that I’m surrounded around that are for the fight and are fighting behind the scenes and in front of the lines.

“Like I said, I’m not the only one that’s fighting so I’m grateful to unify with others. That’s all I try to do. And on the court, I’m the same way. Play with a smile, believe in something that’s very dear to my heart with this game. And then whatever my legacy after that is as a person, that’s all I care about.”

Irving explained how he saw the complicated emotional balance between basketball and community ... and the personal costs.

“As you can see, there’s a deeper level of emotions that I have for helping and serving people around the world. And I’ve done it since I was a kid and I want to continue on way after basketball. Basketball has given enough perspective and attention on the things that I’ve been into. And now that my life has changed comes accepting that there are older versions of myself that I didn’t necessarily like, things I would like to do different, or conversations I would like to have with different people to address man-to-man talk or man-to-woman talk or just honest talk. We all deserve that.”

And so, with all that responsibility, Irving said he “called out for help” and found “mentors” who can help him with balancing “changing the world” and being one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

“There’s nothing normal about this life that I live. It’s just something that I’ve come to accept and embrace; let me use this as a tool to be able to change things that I wanna see in this world. I have to be honest with myself with how much energy I give that and how many others I’m actually impacting.”

In the end, he said, he had to deal with it all and so he took a pause.

“So when I removed myself from something, you can definitely feel the weight and the absence definitely means something, and I’m aware of that. Like I said, I take full accountability. To those that are leading with me, and also following alongside, walking alongside––we’re going to get through this.

“This world is a wacky place at times, but as long as we preserve together and as long as we continue to just tell each other the truth about how we feel about each other. That’s a big thing. I just want honesty. And in order to be honest, I gotta be honest with myself. And that’s the first thing. I know I can talk in circles and I know all these words get used, but just being honest here: it’s been a lot to balance. I called for help. And now I have so many mentors and so many people reaching out and taking things off my plate that were never mine in the first place. They are better suited for this position. I’ll play my role on playing on this team of changing the world, and others will do the same.”

Irving confirmed the reports that he had bought a house for the family of George Floyd. The Nets point guard called the gesture as a “team effort” and is just doing his part to give back and give attention to underserved communities.

“Just a team effort,” Irving said about helping the Floyd family. “I just want to continue to keep fulfilling our purpose and serving a lot of the underserved communities. Those don’t necessarily get the same attention from others around so I’m just doing my part.”

Of course, Irving will now embark on re-joining the Nets, which now features not only his friend Kevin Durant and the newest Net, James Harden, who he has yet to play with, as the NBA’s newest and most noteworthy “Big Three.” Irving said he’s very excited to have Harden as a teammate ... and sent his regards to Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, and Taurean Prince.

“Very excited,” Irving said about Harden being a Net. “Obviously, letting go of some of the pieces that have been here in the Nets organization for a while and even before I got here was going to be hard regardless. It is just the nature of the business. We are all brothers still so we are just moving on into the next phase of developing as a team, building some comradery, and having fun.”