Kyrie Irving is no stranger to being the centre of attention, for what he does on the court, for what he says away from it and -- most recently -- for deciding not to say anything at all.
Doing so necessarily means a mix of praise and scrutiny, the latest high-profile source of which came from NBA hall of famer Charles Barkley, who weighed in on Irving's pre-season choice to boycott multiple media availabilities.
"I'm not sure what point he's trying to make," Barkley said during a Friday appearance on ESPN's Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin morning show. "What is he saying and what is he trying to say? He starts talking about what an artist he is -- he's a basketball player. That's what he is. We're not frontline responders, we're not teachers. Man, you dribble a basketball. Stop acting like you're the smartest person in the world."
At the start of December, Irving issued a statement through a spokesperson saying that it would take the place of him speaking to the media directly to ensure his message was "conveyed properly."
In the statement, Irving also indicated that the hardships of 2020 were a contributing factor to his decision.
"Life hit differently this year and it requires us, it requires me, to move differently," Irving wrote. "So, this is the beginning of that change."
Irving and his team, the Brooklyn Nets, were subsequently fined $25,000 by the NBA for violating the league-mandated media access requirements.
When responding to the fine, Irving wrote on social media that he prayed the money would go to marginalized communities in need and appeared to chastise the media in saying "I do not talk to Pawns, my attention is worth more." On Dec. 14, Irving made his first media availability of the pre-season and was asked to address his "pawns" comment.
“No distractions, nothing about dispelling anything, nothing about going back and forth, nothing about calling out one person or another, not even to refer to [the media] as pawns," Irving said. "It’s just really how I felt about the mistreatment of certain artists, when we get to a certain platform, when we make decisions within our lives to have full control and ownership.”
It is unclear at this time if a specific moment led Irving to these sentiments, but Irving's media history is littered with instances of not seeing eye-to-eye with the media.
Perhaps most notably, as a member of the Boston Celtics, Irving baselessly musing about the possibility of the earth being flat drew wide-spread criticism. During a 2018 follow-up interview with The New York Times, Irving sought to re-frame his comments as a philosophical referendum on how knowledge is acquired and the need for research. He eventually issued an apology to science teachers who faced difficulty teaching their students the earth was, indeed, round after his comments.
More recently, during the leadup to the NBA's Orlando bubble, Irving was reportedly among several players who spoke out against the NBA's return-to-play due to the nationwide unrest from social injustice and racism, spurred by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Irving's concern that playing basketball would pull attention from the essential discourse on racism in America was widely understood, however some high-profile media personalities labelled him a disruptor of the NBA's return plans.
Despite Irving's apparent dislike of communicating with the media, contractually he is obligated to, as Barkley noted in Friday's interview.
"Can you talk about social issues and things like that? Of course," Barkley said. "But some of this other stuff, I'm like 'Yo man, you do realize you're just a basketball player, right?' It seems like he's like 'I want you guys to know I'm the smartest in the room.' Well first of all, you're not. You only went to college for six months. A lot of players, a lot of guys are smarter than you are.
"Just answer stupid basketball questions and if you wanna say something about social justice, say it and mean it because it's important and significant. But all that other stuff, yo man, shut the hell up and talk basketball."