There’s been no basketball in the NBA since March 11, but for Kyrie Irving, the wait has been even longer. He has been out with a shoulder injury that bothered him all season and has not played since February 1. Even if the NBA does return, as scheduled in Orlando, Irving will not be taking the court for the Nets.
Yet Irving has been thrust, along with the Lakers’ Avery Bradley, into the league’s spotlight because, over the course of last week, he was organizing conference calls among players to discuss complaints and resistance to the plans of the league and its players to come back and finish the 2019-20 season.
If Irving is successful and if his efforts wind up torpedoing the rest of this year, he could potentially cost himself millions—and even 10s of millions—of dollars. Sources told Heavy.com Irving is aware of the consequences of his stand and is willing to risk a tear-down on the NBA for it.
Irving’s focus, according to The Athletic, was, “the nationwide unrest stemming from racial injustice, systematic racism and police brutality as well as what the world continues to face during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Irving was quoted on one call saying, “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
Kyrie Irving’s Revolt Could Lead to CBA Collapse
But what happens if Irving can derail the return of the league, with 22 teams slated to play eight games each at Disney World beginning on July 30?
There could be major consequences for the players. Irving, as a vice president in the NBPA, is well aware of that.
A cancellation of the remainder of the season would open the way for the NBA and its owners to trigger the force majeure clause in the CBA, which would allow the owners to tear up the current collective bargaining agreement and force the players to renegotiate the entire deal on weakened financial footing. That would likely lead to a lockout to start the 2020-21 season.
“That would be the worst-case scenario,” one agent told Heavy.com. “The guys who are making max deals, the guys who are getting $25-35 million per year, you can throw out those contracts. It would be a new deal and it would be favoring the other side. It is something that I think most guys understand. But I don’t think all of them understand and there’s some guys who would be OK with torching the thing down and starting over.”
Irving Would Lose Millions
For Irving, torching everything would start with a $100 million hit. He is in the first year of a four-year, $140 million contract he signed with Brooklyn last summer. He will already lose around $8 million on this year’s payout as the league withholds salary because of coronavirus losses. But if the NBA tears up the CBA, the remaining $105 million on his contract is torn up, too.
Presumably, Irving would re-sign with another NBA team after a new CBA came into effect and he would be well-paid. He is 28 years old and though he only played 20 games for Brooklyn this year, he averaged 27.4 points in those games. So it would not be a straight loss.
But given the shoulder surgery he had in March and the face that he missed 37 games and all of the 2018 playoffs in the past two seasons, there would have to be a reluctance to give Irving anything like the contract he signed last summer. And with the financial hits the league would take from the loss of this season and a lockout that would likely follow, Irving’s pay would be knocked back further.
That $100 million over the next three years could be more like $60 million or even less.
Irving might be legitimately OK with that. Maybe he would sacrifice that money to keep the focus on social justice. Maybe he would like to see the CBA renegotiated to do more for the NBA’s middle-tier players, who lost out in the last collective bargaining agreement in favor of more money for stars. Maybe he does not want to see his brethren exposed to COVID-19 in Orlando.
He had better be. Because if he wins this argument, it will cost him, dearly.