For most, it would be a dream to be able to play for one’s hometown team while also being favorites for a championship immediately upon arrival. This was the storyline of Kyrie Irving when he first came to Brooklyn, until his dream turned into a series of challenges.
It all started on Jun. 30, 2019, when Irving and Kevin Durant signed on to become a part of the Brooklyn Nets. The pair had planned to team up since the 2019 All-Star Game. With the Nets being Irving’s hometown team and having two max salary spots, it was the perfect destination.
There was a lot of excitement upon the pair’s arrival due to their ability on the court and their unique personalities. How their mentalities would mesh with each other was previewed in an Instagram live where Irving proclaimed that he was Durant in his past life.
“In a past life, I was you. What you are now, that’s what I’m… up here! Same mentality,” Irving said.
The duo’s debut would be delayed because Durant was coming off an achilles tear, which kept him out during the 2019-20 season. However, this did not stop Irving from recording 50 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists in his Nets debut, which made him the first player ever to score 50 points in a team debut. Irving would play 20 games in the season until he was ruled out due to a shoulder injury.
Once the pandemic shut the world down and the NBA started finalizing plans to continue the season in a bubble, Irving did not support the idea. In response to rumors of a chance they could sit out of the bubble as long the top earners could use some of their salary to donate to players and staff making less money, Irving proclaimed, “I will give up everything I have.” His dismay at the idea of being in a closed area, and to getting the vaccine, in general, would foreshadow what was to come for him in the next season.
In the 2021-22 season, the NBA returned to playing in arenas, and each team had COVID-19 regulations. With COVID-19 still being very prominent at the time, New York City enforced a local vaccine mandate for sports arenas that would restrict Irving from playing at home due to his unwillingness to get the shots. Irving would sit out 35 games until COVID-19 decimated the team, forcing the Nets to activate Irving at least for home games. Irving would be cleared to play home games on March 24, 2022, when New York City decided they would not include pro athletes and performers in the vaccine mandate.
During this time, James Harden joined the Nets via trade. There was a lot of hype surrounding the trio, and some even thought they might be the best offensive trio of all time. During his show Undisputed on FS1, sports columnist Skip Bayless praised the group, saying “The day the Nets landed James Harden, I declared this is the greatest 3-man collection of offensive firepower in the history of this game.” It was underwhelming for some fans to only get a small sample size of what they had to offer together. Kobe Dickson, a graduate student on the Howard University men’s basketball team, felt that the fact that Harden, Irving, and Durant didn’t get to play an entire season together was disappointing.
“I thought we were about to witness the next dynasty in the NBA. They even had James Harden too for a while,” Dickson said.
“Granted, KD was hurt when he went there, but I think myself along with everyone else expected more than one conference finals appearance to be their best Net’s accomplishment. They only played in 74 games together which is a huge let down considering the time they had together, but I expected at least a finals appearance from those two,” he added.
The following season after losing in the semi-finals to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets were still poised to have a successful year. However, with little time together to build chemistry and injuries still plaguing the team’s stars, the Nets were never able to gain any momentum. As a result of dissatisfaction between Harden and the Nets franchise, Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons.
The Nets spent the rest of the season in turmoil dealing with a knee injury of Durant and the constant wonder if and when Simmons would suit up for them. The Nets would go into the playoffs as the 8th seed, where they matched up with the soon-to-be conference champion Boston Celtics. The series’ outcome would result in a sweep, and it never felt like the Nets had a chance.
With the Nets taking another early exit in the playoffs, it left a sour taste in Durant and Irving’s mouths. During the off-season, they both expressed interest in being traded from the Nets. While both were shopped around, being that they were still under contract and still were top players in the league, it was hard to find an equal package that benefited both sides. So at the start of the 2022-23 season, both Durant and Irving were still on the Nets.
The uncertainty of Durant and Irving’s long-term commitment loomed over the organization throughout training camp and into the start of the season. Once the season began, the Nets got out to a slow start ranking 28th in point differential and 30th in defensive efficiency. However, as the season wore on, the Nets began picking things up and even won twelve straight games going into January. With the Nets being in a relatively good place, it was a surprise when news of Irving’s departure broke.
On Feb. 6, 2023, Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. The prospect of seeing Irving and Luka Dončić in the same backcourt, especially this season, was unthinkable at the beginning of the year. Kenneth Blakeney, head coach of the Howard University men’s basketball team, thinks this pairing will have a dynamic similar to the one Lebron James and Irving shared.
“Luka is probably the closest comparison to Lebron James in today’s game… Luka, like Lebron is a willing passer, can create for himself or others and is a three-level scorer. Luka has been playing professionally since he was like 14-years-old, so he’s been the new guy and had to learn how to fit in which I think will help make the transition for Kyrie smooth,” Blakeney said.
The fact that Irving’s tenure with the Nets started with a trade then ended in a trade really brings to light the reality of basketball. Whether it’s the NBA with the trade deadline or now the NCAA with the transfer portal, players really can be on a new team with new surroundings in a blink of an eye.
“I would say the trade deadline and transfer portal have their similarities,” Dickson pointed out. “There is an air of craziness and uncertainty that players don’t know where they’re going to end up in both places. There is also the readiness to adapt to a new situation that players have to have.”
Now, Irving must adapt to his new team and hope things will fall into place better than they did in Brooklyn.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee