On the court, they’ve got two of the NBA’s loudest skill sets. Kyrie Irving is the game’s “best entertainer,” as Lakers legend Magic Johnson recently put it. Kevin Durant is the game’s purest scorer, Johnson said.
And off the court, the two Brooklyn Nets stars can be just as loud.
Durant, with his omnipresence on social media, and Irving, with his outspokenness about social issues, both have a tendency to grab headlines for things they’ve done away from basketball. In one recent case, they made a statement for what they did by staying away from the court itself.
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Durant, Irving Skipped National Anthem
Last summer, amid the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Irving and former Lakers guard Avery Bradley attempted to form their own coalition of players to boycott the 2020 season restart, according to author Matt Sullivan, whose new book Can’t Knock The Hustle takes readers inside Brooklyn’s wild 2020 season.
Though that coalition fell apart, Irving took matters into his own hands — quietly. In an article for GQ, Sullivan described the way Irving — along with Durant — began skipping the national anthem before games this season, a ritual that the duo continued through the postseason.
“After he returned to the court in January, Kyrie Irving began slipping out of pre-game warmups ten minutes before tipoff, disappearing into the shadowy tunnel of an arena — and skipping the national anthem,” Sullivan wrote in his GQ story. “Kevin Durant would silently follow about a minute after Irving, as the cameras cut to commercial and the lights went down. Their teammate DeAndre Jordan joined, too, before the Brooklyn Nets stars hustled back to the huddle in time for starting lineups.”
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Irving Stops Short of Confirming
Irving didn’t quite confirm to Sullivan that he was protesting the national anthem. But Sullivan confirmed as much from several sources.
In early March, toward the end of my year-and-a-half-long embed with the Nets for a new book on protest, pandemic and the NBA’s influence, Irving sent me an Instagram DM, unprovoked. It included a 67-page PDF of a Supreme Court decision on Indigenous land rights and his encouragement for me to “Keep the truth Alive.” This was hours after he sent a rare tweet — “Only a matter of time until all Natives Africans Asians completely stop producing and entertaining for Racist America and Racist Europe” — and not too long before that evening’s game. Afterward, I asked Irving why he and Jordan had stayed in the locker room again, and if it had anything to do with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ellipses in our chat showed him typing, deleting, typing again… and eventually choosing to remain quiet.
Irving and Jordan declined through representatives to comment for this story, and Durant’s business partners did not respond to a detailed list of questions. But five sources close to the stars acknowledge that their disappearing act continued until Brooklyn was eliminated from the postseason last week. “There’s a number of them doing it,” a Nets staffer tells me. “Ky, Kev, DJ, more.”
As Sullivan noted, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at the start of the 2020-21 campaign that he wouldn’t focus on discipline for players who chose to break a rule requiring them to “stand and line up in a dignified posture.”