The Dallas Mavericks have a problem. They have a star player in Luka Dončić, a generational talent who can handle, score, pass, boards OK, has an eerie step-back three-point shot, good size, the exact sort of dude you want on your team. Aside from Luka, they are packing a bunch of role players. Last year, the Mavs won 52 games, beat an openly-choking Suns team in the second round, and lost to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Luka, it appeared, had made it. He was a shit-hot boy from the Balkans and the world was his oyster. 

Then this season started. The Mavs expected to take the momentum from that Conference Finals appearance into 2023. Instead, the Mavs have been underwhelming, inconsistent, merely “fine.” 

Nobody in the NBA, young supernova talents especially, wants to be “fine.” Mark Cuban’s Mavs, pulled by both their desires and the looming free agency of Doncic in 2027, would like to get better, faster. The main way to make that happen is to replace some of these role players with basketball wizards, the kind of guy who can make the magic while Luka rests, or is having an off night, or when the other team is having an on night. 

These players aren’t easy to come by. They’re called stars because they are far away, visible to the eye on game nights but far out of range of your grubby, greedy little fingers. But if your ceiling is low and time is coming, you do what you have to do. Even if it’s more than a little bit risky.

Acquiring the services of Kyrie Irving doesn’t expose you to injury risk. His contract expires this summer, the precise financial asset you want if you’re looking to have cap room to sign someone else down the line. His game is not arcane, inconsistent, or flawed in any particular way. Maybe you could complain about his defense, but small guards aren’t making much of their hay in that area anyway. On the court he is now more or less what he has always been: a fabulous ball-handler, a good shooter, and a brilliant finisher at the rim — a perfect second engine for a team that sputters out whenever the first one can’t quite get up the hill.

But he was available at the measly price of some decent role players, a 2029 first-rounder and two second round picks for a reason. Because he is a fucking pain in the ass. It’s not a new thing. It hasn’t always been a bad thing, but it’s the only consistent truth of Kyrie’s entire career and there’s no reason to believe it won’t rear its ugly head and screw up his time on the Mavs like it has most other places. The Mavs even know this. They’re just hoping that they can get Kyrie to bring the excellent production he’s had with the Brooklyn Nets before he pulls some completely unacceptable shit that will necessitate a wild arrangement where he has to play with a pirate eye patch or something. 

A brief index of Kyrie’s work, if you’re not familiar: A measly season after they won the 2016 NBA Championship, Kyrie decided that LeBron James, the best NBA player of his generation, was cramping his style, and he would prefer to rule like a prince over greener pastures. Reporting/gossip at the time suggested that Kyrie would go multiple days without talking to his teammates. A while after he requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics, he called LeBron and apologized for how it all went down, saying that he now understood the burden of leadership. He made this call after publicly airing out his younger teammates after a bad loss to an extremely piss-poor Orlando Magic squad. 

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as Cleveland Cavaliers teammates in 2016.


Around this time, he told reporters he thought the Earth was flat. He retracted this later. Sort of. Looking back, it seems like he might have believed the Earth was actually flat, because Kyrie is “susceptible to misinformation.” 

Time goes on. Kyrie tells people he wants to be a Boston Celtic for life, then he almost immediately leaves the team in free agency and signs with the Brooklyn Nets. Now, this is the part where I write about the good things that Kyrie has done on account of his natural inclination for being a pain in the ass. Personally making Celtics fans crazy and goading them to claim en masse that Kemba Walker was a suitable replacement for Kyrie: very funny!  

He led the fight to get the NBA to stick their necks out for the Black Lives Matter movement during the COVID-19 “bubble” season, and then tried to get the players to go on an honest-to-god wildcat strike after the police killing of Jacob Blake. Former President Obama, bored at home and thirsting for NBA action, had to personally intervene to get the bubble back on track. 

A stopped clock is only right twice a day, as they say. In Brooklyn, he began to really lose the plot. The first year went fine, though he did roll his ankle in the playoffs. In the second year, though, he refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19, for reasons that remain sort of nebulous. As Rolling Stone reported at the time, “Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that ‘secret societies’ are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for ‘a plan of Satan.’” 

Since the Nets play in New York City, where you were required to be vaccinated to work in a gigantic basketball arena filled with people, he was in and out of the lineup all year, the Nets kind of stunk as a result, and they lost to — guess who — the Boston Celtics in the first round.

When Chris Brown and Ted Cruz are teaming up to say you’re doing the right thing, it’s time to step back and wonder, Hey, maybe I’m not living my life right

Then it got really weird. Around Kanye Hitlergate 2022, Kyrie shared the Amazon listing for a three-hour-long documentary called Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America that is really, really anti-Semitic

This kicked off a lengthy media cycle where reporters asked Kyrie if he was anti-Semitic, and he smirked and said any accusations of his being anti-Semitic were “not justified” without disavowing the content of the hateful video he shared that promoted Holocaust denialism and accused Jews of being media-controlling Satanists. Instead of issuing an apology, he was defiant. “History is not supposed to be hidden from anybody,” Irving told the media, adding, “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in. I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.” 

This led to Nike dropping Irving as a spokesman, even though his signature shoes were worn widely across the NBA and generated a staggering amount of revenue for the company. Kevin Durant, his Brooklyn Nets teammate, close friend and one of the NBA’s finest players, stood by him through it all. 

All this mess made everyone not named KD wonder out loud: What the fuck is going on here? Does Kyrie WANT to play basketball? Is he just trying to annoy as many people as possible? And then the season started, he donned the uniform and he was good at basketball, so everyone threw up their hands and admitted that you couldn’t really know anything about this guy. (He ultimately apologized.)

When he asked for a contract extension, the Nets said, no, absolutely not, do you know what a huge pain in the ass you are, and he said trade me, and they said sure, whatever, anything to never talk to you ever again. And now KD and the Nets are left to pick up the pieces. 

Here is a story about another NBA player: 

In March 2021, Meyers Leonard was streaming Call of Duty on Twitch. After he got a particularly gnarly kill, he called the guy he tagged a particularly nasty anti-Semitic slur, some real toxic online-gaming stuff. Meyers was subsequently cut loose by the Miami Heat. 

From here, Meyers presented a comprehensive attempt to prove that he wasn’t a virulent anti-Semite. He went to Jewish community centers, gave talks at his alma mater, had a child, tried to stay in shape and huddled near the phone, hoping a team would reach out. They did not — until very recently, when a depleted Lakers team had him in for a workout


People have different levels of tolerance when it comes to repentance. I am personally inclined to say that Meyers Leonard did what he was supposed to do, and should be allowed to play pro basketball for money again. But there’s a problem: Meyers is not very good. He is tall, athletic, not injury-prone and a sort-of decent shooter, but he just doesn’t have the otherworldly spatial thinking skills you need to be a highly functional NBA player. He doesn’t bring enough to the table to balance out the crap your social media person would have to take if you signed him, so he’s just lingering outside the stadium, posting his baby on IG and playing a different, better, less hate-filled shooter game, hopefully. 

The difference between Kyrie and Meyers isn’t ethical, it’s material. Pro sports are in the business of human production, and they’ll perform the calculus and look over some weird shit if you’re good. Kyrie is one of the best, so he gets to be a huge pain in the ass, over and over until there’s not even a remote possibility that he can access that level of transcendence on the court. It’s probably not going to work out for the Mavericks. Kyrie just can’t stop stepping in it, alienating his teammates, making his employers rip their hair out. But the Mavs needed the juice, so they threw the dice. As before, so forever.


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