The Media Column: Why Kyrie Irving's recent outbursts at the press could be new normal for NBA stars

Alex Reimer
March 08, 2019 - 11:40 am
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Kyrie Irving’s one-sided war against the media continued this week with a hypocritical soliloquy on how he doesn’t play basketball for fame or fortune. 

"I didn’t really come into this game for there to be cameras in my face, be famous, be a celebrity, so it’s a little hard for me,” he told reporters. “I wanted those things when I was younger but at this point in my career, I just want to play basketball at a very, very high level.”

The contradictions were easy to spot, considering Irving recently starred in “Uncle Drew,” a slapstick comedy centered around his character from Pepsi Max commercials. This summer, Irving will star and produce a movie about a rumored-to-be-haunted hotel in Oklahoma City. 

Johnny Knoxville takes on roles with more artistic heft. 

Irving has acted mercurially with the press ever since early February, when he walked back his preseason promise of re-signing with the Celtics. Apparently tired of being inundated with questions about his pending free agency, Irving said he doesn’t owe anybody “s—“ and to ask him about his plans on July 1. Then he went on to say he “respects” the Knicks franchise and held an All-Star Game chat with Kevin Durant, which was videotaped and spread across social media. Amateur lipreaders tried to decipher their conversation, saying it looked like Irving was mouthing the words “two max slots” to his pal KD. 

Kyrie didn’t like that, either.

“It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking,” he said to reporters. “And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about that? That’s what disconnects me from all that s***.”

The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn says he doesn’t think Irving or most stars have an issue with the day-to-day media coverage of the team. It’s all of the ancillary stuff –– Twitter rumors, endless speculation, viral videos –– they dislike.

“Kyrie is uncomfortable with this entire Twitter world of speculation and the continued speculation,” Washburn told WEEI.com in a phone call. “Free agency has become more of a soap opera and more interesting than the season. I don’t think he’s particularly interested in dealing with that world, where everyone is asking, ‘Where are you going?’ I think the Anthony Davis thing set him off, where he got dragged into that –– he’s conspiring with Anthony Davis, or he wants the Celtics to get AD for him to come back. I think he was bothered a lot by that. I think he has an open ear, perhaps too much, to these Twitter reporters –– the ones who never cover the NBA or have covered the NBA, but they think know the NBA, so they guess everything. They’re putting photos of Kyrie in a Knicks uniform, things like that. All of that stuff bothers him, and it sounds like he pays too much attention to it. I don’t know if it’s the day-to-day media coverage, but the entire narrative of, ‘He’s conspiring with AD,’ kind of set him off, and then everyone asking him about the Knicks. He’s a sensitive guy, that’s pretty obvious, just like (Kevin) Durant, and these guys pay too much attention to stuff that isn’t important.”

Durant unleashed his own rant against social media rumor mongers last month, saying he’s “got nothing to do with the Knicks” and is tired of being asked about his free agency plans. Of course, Durant invites that speculation by signing one-year deals, but he says he feels overwhelmed. 

The NBA is the most-tweeted about league in sports, probably due to the its relatively young fanbase. Its stars are also avid social media users, with LeBron James, Durant, Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade boasting 88.2 million followers between them. Durant is seemingly so sensitive to Twitter hate, he’s allegedly created burner accounts to defend himself against criticism. 

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he sees a direct correlation between his stars’ obsessive social media use and their apparent unhappiness. "We are living in a time of anxiety,” he said last week at the MIT Sloan Sports Conference. "I think it's a direct result of social media. A lot of players are unhappy.”

Though Irving has 4.3 million Twitter followers, he hasn’t tweeted since November. He’s more active on Instagram, regularly sending out promotional pictures and videos to his 12.5 million followers. 

Studies show enhanced social media use increases anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness. But social media is where brands are built nowadays, leaving stars little choice but to engage with strangers for hours per day. They will have to find a balance, or risk losing their collective minds.

“It’s unfortunate that’s what we’ve turned into, and I think that’s what bothers these players,” Washburn said. “Nothing is private anymore. But Kyrie is going to have to get used to that if he hasn’t already.”

Good thing Kyrie says he isn’t interested in fame. It should be easy to log off, right? 

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NESN gets snubbed on Opening Day: The Red Sox’ own network won’t be able to carry the first game of their title defense this season. ESPN will exclusively air their Opening Day matchup against the Mariners, with NESN still airing pre- and postgame coverage. While that must be a disappointment for the NESN suits, they should still feel good about their upcoming Sox coverage. With Dennis Eckersley slated for 85 games and Jerry Remy ready to return, baseball fans would be hard-pressed to find a better local booth this summer.

Jorge Andres already out at NBC Sports Boston: NBC Sports Boston’s newest hire is already out the door. Anchor Jorge Andres, who was ostensibly hired to replace Red Sox reporter Evan Drellich, is no longer with the network. In an email, an NBC Sports Boston spokesperson told WEEI.com Andres left due to “personal reasons.” 

Drellich has said on the WEEI airwaves he’s not aware of any immediate plans to bring him back.

Schefter beats Rapsheet in NFL Insider battle: Early Friday morning, Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport were peddling alternative reports about Antonio Brown. Rapoport insisted the multiple wideout was likely on his way to Buffalo, tweeting the Steelers and Bills have been in “aggressive talks” about a trade. Schefter, however, contended the talks were dead by Wednesday. And then he delivered the knockout blow: an on-the-record denial from Bills GM Brandon Beane.

It’s not a bad comeback for Schefter, who’s been pilloried in recent weeks for his now-infamous “bigger than Kraft” report. Then again, with news of President Trump’s personal relationship with the founder of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, maybe Schefter was onto something after all … 

Related: The Media Column: Coverage of Robert Kraft saga exposes everyone's biases

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