Viewed as a pariah by many, Kyrie Irving knows a thing or two about having his life play out in the public eye, weathering countless controversies in becoming one of sports’ most polarizing figures, expressing outspoken views on everything from flat-earth conspiracy theories to COVID vaccination. Irving’s open defiance, framing himself as a martyr for causes he cares about, has a tendency to ruffle feathers, complicating his legacy as one of the most skilled players the NBA has ever produced.
So, in that sense, Irving can relate to Ja Morant’s current predicament, putting his career and reputation at risk with repeated missteps, none more troubling than his reckless behavior at a Denver strip club, flashing a gun (which he claims wasn’t his) in a drunken livestream shared to his Instagram account earlier this month.
Morant, who is nearing the end of an eight-game suspension handed down by commissioner Adam Silver (he’s eligible to resume practicing Tuesday with an eye toward returning Wednesday night against Houston), has done and said the right things since his scandal broke, admitting to making “bad decisions” in an interview with Jalen Rose while profusely apologizing to teammates for bringing unwelcome “negativity” to the Grizzlies organization. It’s unclear how fans will receive him upon his return, though Irving, who was seen embracing Morant after the Mavericks’ win Monday night in Memphis, thinks Ja deserves our empathy, lamenting the “overload of judgment” cast by members of the mainstream media.
“I don’t want to assume anything by every media member, but that’s just the way it seems for me and my perspective, which is there was an overload of judgment on Ja,” opined Irving, as transcribed by Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “There’s a real human being dealing with emotion. I care about that aspect. That’s where I’m putting my energy.”
Morant isn’t the first and surely won’t be the last hoops prodigy to struggle with his newfound celebrity, overwhelmed by a meteoric rise to fame and more money than he could ever spend. Still, even if you’re of Charles Barkley’s belief that star athletes aren’t obligated to appear as role models for younger fans, Morant’s actions demand some level of accountability, with the past few weeks serving as a needed wakeup call for a talented albeit volatile 23-year-old who, if he can avoid further damage to his public image, would seem to have a bright future ahead of him.
“I believe any hardship in life builds character,” said Irving. “I was happy to see him out there today. And I just want him to make it through. He has a long career ahead of him. I don’t think anybody should be controlling [the narrative] but him.”