There are many ways a star athlete can retire in the middle of their prime. Some of my favorites included the commissioner banning them for gambling discrepancies so they play baseball instead, having to step out because you can't use performance-enhancing drugs anymore and my all-time treasured, leaving to become an actor while going on to film the first-ever interracial sex scene in 100 Rifles. But for Kyrie Irving, this one is surely unique.
All that's needed: An infectious disease that requires unwavering player mandates around vaccination + A Michael Jordan of stubbornness and ignorance (this case Kyrie) + Zero trade value since his agents made it clear he will retire if moved + History of being a constant distraction on every team he's ever been not named 'LeBron's team'. With that, we are already on 'Level 10 Disaster Incoming' mode. Luckily Kyrie Irving went on his Instagram live and explained with crystal clear accuracy how these elements don't mean a career stopped short, "Don't believe that I'm retiring."
He continued saying:
Don't believe any of that sh*t man. Like really be aware of what's being said before I even get a chance to be on a podium and speak for myself. All these people saying all these things about what is going on with me, it's not true. Pay attention to what's going on out in the real world. People are losing their jobs to these mandates, people are having to make choices with their own lives which I respect.
However you feel about the jab, this sounds like Kyrie Irving is a martyr, which I have a gut feeling is something he has always wanted to be perceived to be. My gut also tells me that Durant and Harden would be liking this as much as they're going to like Giannis boasting his championship ring. The front office's stance already seems clear as they are reportedly not willing to offer him an extension. But does anyone actually buy that Kyrie wouldn't just retire?
Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? Remember when Kyrie said on his own accord to the fans of Boston that he was resigning? That wasn't some awkward exchange with a 7-year-old where he just said what was right at the time - Kyrie went out of his way. Remember a year ago when Kyrie 'took a break' from playing for two weeks. No teammates or coaches had a clue if he would rock up the next week or a minute before tipoff, then he was found partying at his sister's birthday in New Jersey. There is a difference between taking the space he needs for his mental health and Irving doing whatever he can get away with. From the outside looking in, it's practically impossible to tell the difference.
From a Nets perspective, the urgency is clear. Other than the basic but fundamental necessity that Kyrie, Harden and Durant need to play more than 13 games this season to compete for a championship. Having all three on the court means the opposition has to have two lock-down perimeter defenders and just something to throw at Durant. This becomes almost impossible to defend for a number of reasons.
First is that Kyrie, Harden, and Durant are three of the top five iso-scorers in the game and you can't double team any of them. Kyrie's participation becomes essential when one of the three likely gets injured and the minutes need to be spread. Second, the opposing three defenders would most likely sacrifice the team's offense. Bucks would be the best bet with Holiday, Middleton, Giannis, and Tucker - but remember, they only just got through by an inch when Harden was at 50% and Irving was out. And that's the third; when Harden's throat starts annually closing come playoffs, Kyrie, for all his flaws, needs to take over.
To say Kyrie wouldn't love to go out guns blazing at authority for a 'good' but all be it, ill-advised cause - would probably be a lie. In the player empowerment era with Ben Simmons playing chicken with Philadelphia, Kyrie seems more willing to lose. Covid's not going anywhere, neither is Kyrie, so it seems we're on one road to the inevitable retirement.