THE KYRIE CONUNDRUM
By Ty Thompson
Originally posted on #MNR blog, January 30, 2021
#MNR: The Kyrie Conundrum
Picture it: Jersey, 2009 (Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls voice). This fairly new phenomenon called YouTube was still in its nascent stages, for the most part, so even with the internet having been in full swing for some time, the high school baller mixtapes were yet to be superfluous. Still, legend of this brilliant young point guard from St. Patrick High School & Academy (Elizabeth, NJ) made its way up the turnpike and into my ears. They said he could handle the pill like Rod Strickland and shoot it like Chris Jackson (IYKYK). I had to see for myself, of course, so I began to do my research. He stood about six feet tall at the time. His pops was a baller as well, a #BXNYC native. The word was that his team was the best thing cooking in Jerz, from Bergen County to Camden. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the kid’s name was/is Kyrie Irving.
Kyrie, a sixteen-year-old junior at the time, ran the show for the eventual state sectional, group, and Tournament of Champions (New Jersey’s outright state champion) winner. The team included future North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland and future Kentucky forward and NBA vet Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They were coached by Kevin Boyle, who now coaches the NBA factory disguised as a prep school in Florida, Montverde Academy. They were the talk of North Jersey.
Around the same time, I’d just begun to work for a local newspaper, the now defunct Examiner.com, based in Newark. My work consisted of writing freelance sports articles. Kyrie was my first piece of copy. I’d like to think that I introduced the phenom we now know to some…who gives a shit? But, for the record, he is everything I said he’d become. He’s one of the best basketball players on this planet. He was a McDonalds and Jordan Brand Classic All-American, five-star recruit to Duke, and the first pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. He’s a perennial all-star, NBA champion, and Olympic gold medalist. His chop game (handles) is a step above A-1 (and A.I.). He’s the best below the rim finisher in the sport…ever. He’s everything I thought he would be, and then some. But no one’s perfect.
As I recall, word of Kyrie’s “diva” mentality began to surface the season after he won the whole damn thing alongside King James, Kevin Love, J.R. Spliff (respectfully), and a few other soldiers (2016 Champions). The scoop was Kyrie did not want to play second fiddle, bride’s maid, or Harold Melvin after Teddy P. moved from the drum set to lead vocals. He felt he was just as good as Lebron. I mean, he did hit the eventual game seven winner to seal the first championship in Cleveland Cavaliers history. He did have a lights-out series. He did cement himself as a top-notch assassin. But in his heart, he felt it was time to be THE man. Fuck that Robin/sidekick shit. So, he departed Cleveland via trade for Boston (I had to pause cuz I just vomited a bit thinking about the Celtics). He said he planned to sign the re-up and remain a Celtic when the time came. Not quite. Injury kept Kyrie from fully competing down the stretch in the 2019 Playoffs. To the surprise of many, the Celtics, led by rookies Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, made a spirited run to the Eastern Conference Final…WITHOUT KYRIE for most of the second round and the entire conference final. The whispers began to become audible. This was Kyrie’s third significant injury and Kyrie was injury prone, so it seemed. There were rumors that the locker room was a better environment without him. Cool. Kyrie took it in stride. He also took his ass to Brooklyn to play alongside former NBA MVP and fellow champion Kevin Durant, who also arrived in Kings County, NY via free agency. And here we are…
The Nets headlines should have been thoroughly dominated by news of the James Harden trade and how Brooklyn now had the most lethal scoring trio since the Big 3 in Miami, Agent Zero, Antawn (Twon) Jamison, and Caron Butler in D.C., and Run-TMC in Oakland (Golden State). However, it was forced to share the headlines alongside coverage of Kyrie’s sabbatical from the team. Kyrie said it was to deal with personal and family issues. I will not ever question a man who states the need for a step away from work to tend to family business. Family business is always paramount. This step away came amidst reports that his head coach Steve Nash was informed a mere half hour before the game. Yikes. Furthermore, Kyrie was later seen on camera at his sister Asia’s birthday celebration – unmasked, breaking NBA COVID protocol. The cement truck seemed to have sealed the deal when Kyrie’s teleconference with NBA reporters from a couple days ago began to be scrutinized. Kyrie basically brushed off questions about his actions and mental state. He did mention that he’d spoken to his teammates collectively and individually, made his peace with them, and was ready to move on as a unit. But for many, the interview concluded with little resolve regarding how he planned to move for the duration of the season.
Before I even clicked on the YouTube segment, the major thing that I noticed from the still frame of Kyrie’s interview was his disposition. He did the entire interview with his chin rested on folded arms, denoting boredom and defensiveness. It didn’t take much to see that. Kyrie was totally disinterested in the interview, as usual. This type of attitude coming from Kyrie is nothing new. People say that he feels that he’s always the smartest person in the room, whether physically or virtually. Shit, I can’t blame him. That’s usually how I feel. And both of us are usually correct. There’s my rationale for his apparent boredom. But during the Zoom, Kyrie did disclose that he’s got personal issues going on at the moment. That’s what I took from his expression in addition to his general apathy. I feel like there’s a lot more to this than we outsiders have been privy to. But who knows?
My only beef with Kyrie (other than breaking COVID protocol) was him waiting until a half a damn hour before tip-off before notifying coach of his absence. That really doesn’t work for 99% of us. Now, that’s not the reason for my ire. Shit, if you can get away with that type of fuckery on the job I lowkey Stan you. I just don’t like the message it sends to the babies out there that want to be just like #11 one day. I don’t want them to think that this type of business is square business. That type of mentality will prevent you from making it to the A or anywhere in life. But that’s not the focus. I want to speak on Kyrie’s mental health.
I’m not a healthcare professional. I have no formal training in psychology or psychiatry. I don’t even know which of the two is most apt in this discussion. But I do know enough to know that none of us should cast judgement on Kyrie’s mental state without being licensed professionals or without knowing everything that’s involved with the matter. Having said that, I’m going to speak for a moment on mental health and anxiety, as pertaining to the 1%.
For some reason, a substantial number of Americans feel that financial wealth directly correlates to positive mental health. If no one’s told you, IT DOES NOT. Mental health could give two fucks about a bank account or net worth. If that were the case, then why did greats such as Robin Williams or Kurt Cobain take their own lives? Both were rich, yet there was still enough torment in their souls to lead them to their own demise. Exhibit A:
BY EDWARD ARLINGTON ROBINSON
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king--
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Anxiety is no joke. Anxiety does not discriminate. Anxiety has no regard for social status or wealth. Please don’t look at Kyrie and dismiss whatever he’s going through because he’s worth tens of millions of dollars (and a bit quirky). That doesn’t matter. When his soul is troubled, he’s no different from you and I, other than his ability to retain top tier mental health professionals to properly diagnose and treat his condition. The world would immediately be a much better place if we had true compassion for others, physically and emotionally. Age, gender, race, religion, politics, and socioeconomic status mean nothing in the face of anxiety and/or depression. Sure, Kyrie can afford the best mental health care, but you and I are too covered through insurance (Medicaid as well). Pay that damn copay and talk about it with a professional. I always ask naysayers this: if your arm is broken, you'd have to have it treated and repaired, correct? Mental health is the same way. It may in fact be more serious. Why? Well, at least we can see that our arm is broken and the general extent of the damage. The heart and mind are much different. Prayers up for Kyrie. Salute to my favorite NBA ball player. I pray he’ll be ok. I’m still holding him accountable for his failure to properly notify his coach of his absence and potentially putting his team in peril for breaking COVID restrictions, but I refuse to dog him for his time missed. I joked on Twitter that Kyrie is a part-time ball player. The reality is that I shouldn’t have done that. I have no idea what he’s going through. No one does except Kyrie. Think about that the next time you dog him or anyone else prematurely.
My final word is for my fellow Black men. Mental health deficiencies ARE NOT signs of weakness. Anxiety and/or depression DO NOT make you soft. The opposite is true, if you properly address your issues. Mental health is the other half of physical health, body AND mind. And health is wealth. Addressing your mental issues makes you stronger. It also breaks the vicious chain that could potentially harm your offspring and future generations. I can only use myself as an example. Take it from a guy who felt like offing himself about a decade ago. I never showed it. Few knew. Thankfully, CEO and my sis Rycki Waldeck had my back. From there it was on me. It’s been a journey, but I’m in a good place. I’d like to thank Dr. Sharon Bernstein as well. It may take a village to deal with your mental health issues. Don’t fight in silence. Confide in someone. Let them know how you feel. Seek help. In the words of a wise man, knowing that you’re weak is when you’re really being strong (Common is said wise man). God bless. God bless Kyrie.
I’m still rooting for you, young fella. You’re still my favorite.