For Nets fans, the last few days have provided relief of sorts. They won two games — one a historic laugher, the other a rewarding comeback — despite a lineup without two of their new “Big Three” even in the beginning. Kevin Durant was stellar and his first 10 games of the season are as good as any in his 16-year career. Now, it appears that Ben Simmons knee soreness isn’t as bad as thought. He flew to Dallas and will play Monday night vs. the Mavericks, albeit with a minutes restriction. Yuta Watanabe is a favorite of fans ... and Nets marketing.
But on the larger court, the court of public opinion, their situation hasn’t changed and may in fact be getting worse. There’s ample evidence from the national media’s portrayal of the Nets Monday and over the weekend.
Let’s start with what happened hours after the win vs. the Hornets,..
SNL having some fun with the Kyrie Irving drama pic.twitter.com/TxUdSdbBJa— ’ (@_Talkin_NBA) November 6, 2022
There was also over the weekend, a New York Times investigation into the rise of antisemitic hate speech that featured Irving.
During Sunday’s NFL Today, a program that attracts millions of sports fans, James Brown took time out to lament what’s been going on with sports pages and social media. He did not mention Irving by name. He didn’t have to.
"Hate is a disease. It is a virus that spreads and kills."— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) November 6, 2022
On The NFL Today, James Brown delivers a message on hate and antisemitism. pic.twitter.com/Qs4lTutaJo
Then at night, Marc Stein tweeted about “strong voices” urging Joe Tsai to “back off” on hiring Ime Udoka. Those voices, at least one of which we hear is Silver-tongued, don’t want or need any more controversy. They have enough to deal with, thank you very much.
Monday, there are opinion pieces in the New York Times — a lengthy primer on what has happened so far on Kyrie’s latest transgression — and the Washington Post — an excoriation of the silence of almost all NBA players. Not to mention The Athletic’s poll of NBA executives on Irving’s future (Spoiler Alert: He barely has one.)
And there’s more news from Steinie: Irving may meet with Adam Silver as early as Tuesday. That isn’t on the Nets’ list of six conditions for Irving’s return to play. It is one of Silver’s, though. Stein also writes, “There is a feeling among some close to the process, I’m told, that the list was crafted with the knowledge that Irving would be unlikely to complete all six and thus could conceivably subject himself to potential outright release.”
Bottom line from the Times Monday is that Irving has ruined his place in Brooklyn:
Some fans may not be ready to welcome him back, if that time comes. More than one million Jews live in New York City, and roughly 60 percent are in Brooklyn, where the Nets play at Barclays Center on Atlantic Avenue.
Ben Berke, a Nets fan who lives in Astoria, Queens, told The Times that Irving’s apology was an “improvement.”
“But I don’t want him on the team anymore,” he said.
And from the Post, a powerful commentary on the NBA’s culture from Candace Buckner that ends this way:
While Irving played with matches, players watched the fire grow. They traded their power for a distorted code of silence, making their union and league look impotent. They may have wanted to stay out of Irving’s mess, either for their own self preservation or to help their peer, but this desire to protect the chosen few at all costs will end up irreparably damaging the brand.
They looked weak by remaining on the sidelines, choosing to save their peer’s reputation rather than to protect the league. Despite seeing themselves as thought leaders, they shut up and dribbled.
She refers to Irving as “the league’s favorite arsonist.”
C.J. McCollum, president of the players’ union, told The Athletic Monday as well that the executive board of the NBPA will take a wait-and-see attitude, confirming Buckner’s point. “We’ve had a lot of engagement on this matter throughout the week and we feel that it’s best to step back and give thoughtful consideration before acting,” McCollum said.
It is ugly as Monday’s editorial cartoon in the Daily News makes clear:
And we haven’t even touched on ESPN’s constant drumbeat. Over the last three days, they have engaged a rabbi and a crisis communications expert to examine where Brooklyn at.
Then, there’s the Udoka issue. The NBA news mavens, Woj and Shams, basically pronounced him the heir apparent the day Steve Nash was let go. Despite a week of delays, Woj was still saying Friday that the Nets were “on the brink” of hiring a head coach who was suspended for sexual impropriety. The “vetting,” which some reports indicate started in September, continues, Woj said. Not so fast.
There are rumors aplenty about what might happen if the Nets hire Udoka, that the details of the “volume of violations” of the Celtics code of conduct will be revealed and they will go beyond a consensual affair with a team employee. Rumors may not amount to truth but you don’t know what you don’t know.
So here we are, 10 days into a string of events not yet concluded. Perhaps not even close. None of it is going away and not for a while. The Irving controversy (more like a growing scandal), as proven by the extensive and continuing national news coverage, is a threat to the NBA brand. Silver understands that. Do the Nets?
So, let’s root, root for the home team, hope that Cam and Yuta and Nic keep playing their hearts out. Wish Ben the best in his recovery. But know this: your team, our team, right now is in a very bad place.