Kyrie Irving calls criticism 'inevitable': 'They crucified Martin Luther King'

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/brooklyn/" data-ylk="slk:Brooklyn Nets">Brooklyn Nets</a> guard <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4840/" data-ylk="slk:Kyrie Irving">Kyrie Irving</a> (11) takes the ball down court during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/utah/" data-ylk="slk:Utah Jazz">Utah Jazz</a>, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) takes the ball down court during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets hosted the Philadelphia 76ers in a Monday matinee that falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So ahead of the game, Irving — who is back on the injured list with right hamstring tightness — decided to mesh those two ideas together in comments made Friday that are rubbing some the wrong way.

Irving references MLK while explaining own criticisms

The veteran guard missed 26 games due to a right shoulder impingement and returned Jan. 12. In those eight days, despite beginning his Nets tenure with a mea culpa to his time with the Boston Celtics, he seemingly undermined his own leadership by raising concerns about the roster and then attempted to smooth it over.

Meanwhile, he has continued to be the target of criticism. Kendrick Perkins claimed Irving faked his injury, Paul Pierce said the 27-year-old deserved to be booed by Celtics fans and Kevin Garnett suggested he didn’t have the “cojones” to win in Boston.

Which all leads up to Irving’s statements Friday. His full YES “Courtside Report” is here.

Irving told reporters:

“When I was out for those seven weeks and not saying anything people are still saying things about me. It’s inevitable. They crucified Martin Luther King for speaking about peace and social integration. You can go back to historical leaders and great people in society that do great things, and they’re still going to talk s— about them. It is what it is.

“I know what I stand for. I’m a great family man. I have great values, core values. This basketball stuff is a game at the end of the day. It’s dramatized, it’s entertainment for people and fans. I’m a human being at the end of the day, I’m going to keep reiterating that, but my job is making sure my teammate are great and our organization is at a championship level.”

For that, the criticism is piling up again when the remarks resurfaced on Martin Luther King Jr Day. Irving is under fire for comparing himself to King, an activist who had a disapproval rating of 75 percent when he was assassinated in 1968, per Smithsonian Magazine. The civil rights leader wanted a “revolution in values” and his stances were widely dismissed at the time.

Today, his ideas seem obvious and has a 90-percent approval rating with Americans, according to a 2019 poll. His quotes, though often misunderstood or misused, are uttered by many as words to live by.

Irving calls it honor to play on MLK Day

Prior to the game Monday, Irving spoke of the honor to play on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I just wish there were not just holidays to commemorate some of the historical black leaders that have really put their lives on the line and lost it in the line of Civil Rights or making a social impact. Those things hit you real deep when you know the history of where the society has gone. I’m really grateful to play on Martin Luther King Day, but his legacy exists more than just a game being played on that day or Nike shoes being put out or something else. It’s so much more for our society to realize what he was really involved in and what he did in terms of communities across the world on the global scale.”

Irving clearly understands the reason for the day and may have been mentioning Martin Luther King Jr. in his remarks since the man was on his mind heading into the weekend. It may be wanted to put focus on what King did in his lifetime. It could have been about the “why” of Monday and what it means outside of a day off of school and work.

But as with his comments about his Nets teammates, Irving may have missed the mark by failing to provide the proper wording in his comments. In the larger picture — no matter which way he meant it — a basketball player comparing his own critics to that of a man killed for his beliefs is tone deaf.

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