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Pundits, former players and coaches step up criticism of Kyrie Irving, believe Nets can still win

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers

On television and in the (web) pages of newspapers, Kyrie Irving is the continued target of those who believe he should simply accept the vaccination and end the controversy that will likely keep him away from the team indefinitely.

Mike Lupica, the Daily News syndicated columnist, Stan Van Gundy and Reggie Miller of TNT as well as David Dennis Jr. of The Undefeated were among those who took Irving to task overnight, assailing his decision on a variety of levels. Lupica, one of sports most read columnists, even suggested that the Nets should simply trade Irving even if they get 33 cents on the dollar in return.

Irving said on Instagram the other day that this is all about freedom of choice. It is. A smart guy is making one that is not just bad, but monumentally dumb.

It is why the Nets should look into getting rid of him sooner or later, seeing if there is possibly a taker for him, with all of his baggage, old and new, perhaps from one of the teams from the dumber states when it comes to COVID, and that means we’re talking about you Florida and Texas.

Even if the Nets only got a player one-third as good as Irving in return, 33% of something is better for the Nets and their championship ambitions than 100% of nothing.

Lupica wrote that he doesn’t know if there’s a trade out there but sarcastically suggested one that would be a good deal for Brooklyn.

I have no idea if there is a deal out there to be made for Irving, if the Nets could get a bag of balls in returns for him at this point, despite what can be a thrilling talent. They ought to try. At this point the people in charge of the Nets are probably tired of rocking with Kyrie Irving, at least as long as he keeps acting as if he has rocks in his head.

Last night, Van Gundy and Miller similarly spoke about Irving’s stance on a TNT conference call, criticizing several aspects of his arguments, but also suggesting that the Nets should still be favored to win it all.

“The only thing I’m going to disagree with is this whole ‘voice for the voiceless’ thing,” Van Gundy, who spoke on the TNT call. “The anti-vax people right now are not without a voice.

“I live in Florida, man. There are prominent people — our governor [Republican Ron DeSantis], who is making laws to make sure people have a choice and everything. So I’m not buying that those people are voiceless. They are very, very, very, very represented in our society right now. And they’re not underground. It is prominent people — politicians, elected leaders. So he’s not giving voice to the voiceless. They have a voice...

“I agree with what New York City did,” Van Gundy added. “I agree with how the league’s handled it I agree with how the Nets handled it. And Kyrie can make his own decisions but there’s consequences — not only for him, but for the team.”

Miller made the same point on the broadcast. Actions have consequences.

“I understand, to a certain degree, not a lot, but I understand where Kyrie is coming from,” Miller said. “He has every right to think this out. Do his own homework and do whatever he wants because it’s his choice.

“On the flip side, we are dealing with a team sport. And just as he has every right to not want to be vaccinated because he’s speaking for the voiceless and he has an agenda here, the Nets also have an agenda and that’s winning a championship. And they have every right — which I 100% agree with — you cannot be a part-time employee and reap the benefits.”

Both however said that they believe that even without Irving, Brooklyn remains the favorite to win it all (a point that will be first tested Tuesday night vs. the defending champion Bucks in Milwaukee.)

“Before this whole Kyrie situation, as Moses Malone said, God rest his soul, it was ‘four, four, four, four’ [in terms of sweeping the playoffs]. No question,” Miller argued. “Hands down, they were the best team. It wasn’t even close. Let’s say Kyrie doesn’t play or plays half the games or whenever he comes back or gets traded, to me, they’re still the favorite. Maybe then there’s a [six-game series]. Possibly a seven-game series.”

Dennis Jr., is a senior writer at The Undefeated and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. In his Undefeated column, he criticized Irving for “abandoning” and “betraying” the voiceless in the Black community in its fight against the disease while aligning himself with some of the worst elements of American life. Noting Irving’s long record of compassion — and invalid criticism he’s engendered over the years — Dennis Jr. did not hold back.

[T]he act of getting vaccinated is a true social justice issue, and one can’t proclaim to put Black lives first by refusing to stem the tide of a disease that kills more Black and brown people per capita than anyone else. Epidemiologists have said this. Activists have said this. People who are doing the work to get Black folks free are urging people like Irving to get vaccinated. His cause is contradictory to the notion of supporting the most vulnerable among us.

The Undefeated writer noted as well the politics of those who are now publicly supporting his criticisms of mandates, arguing they were also vitriolic in their reaction to Colin Kapernick’s protest against police violence.

It’s a group that includes Donald Trump Jr., who said Irving has sacrificed more than Kaepernick. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants Irving traded to the Houston Rockets. And a gaggle of Fox News hosts are praising Irving for bucking a system of mandated vaccinations that they themselves follow.

Meanwhile, another NBA player and Duke product from New Jersey has become Irving’s most resolute defender on ESPN. Jay Williams has frequently been paired with Stephen A. Smith who has attacked Irving’s position repeatedly in the last several days. Williams and Smith have got at it several times with Williams arguing on behalf of Irving’s freedom and privacy.

“Kyrie Irving doesn’t owe you anything. He doesn’t owe you a response on your timeline. He doesn’t owe you answers that you feel like you need,” Williams said at one point. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, the NBA season starts in five days.’ Who gives a damn.”

Williams also said he has received death threats following his previous defense of Irving on the matter.