Most of us have had a strange friend before. Such a strange person that, if we were to bring her closer to other people, we might first need to explain her essence, to avoid unpleasant friction. You could say they are a bit wacky, but they mean well. If they say X, they could actually mean Y or Z, or even A, B, or C. It’s hard to tell. It takes a lot of decoding to get close to them. But I promise you this: they mean well. However, they are not for everyone. That is sure. It’s okay if you don’t like them, but I love them.
It’s people like this that I remember every time Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving makes the news with his unpredictable behavior or rhetoric. Since joining his friend Kevin Durant in the Northeast, he has done so for the following reasons: skipping pandemic bubble season, refusing to speak to the media, disappearing from team activities for several weeks, suggesting that NBA players could part ways with owners and start their own league, and ceremonial lighting says on the court before a preseason game in Boston, as a way to transform the potentially bad vibes between him and his former Los Angeles franchise. Celtics.
Most recently, Irving tweeted “My mask is off. Now take yours off. Fear not.” Surely a collection of platitudes without a final clear read, Irving’s words are closer to pablum-rich sand rock fare like Coldplay, large and infinitely playable in his show, than any sort of ideological stance. However, in the context of the coronavirus, there is a different and worse understanding of his language available, as the most ungenerous parts of his audience were quick to express.
Irving probably wanted to present a metaphor that could lead slogan-hungry people to be their best, but who really knows. “Are any of you bold enough to think you know what Kyrie is talking about?” Bomani Jones tweeted. “I would never assume that.” Somehow this confusion, which is red in Kyrie’s world, distills the essence of following his team, which is great and weird in equal measure. They are more than dazzling on the court, so good at basketball and so stylish in their domain that they could get you drunk, but there is also always an impenetrable and alluring mist of mystery around them at the same time. As the Nets enter the ’21 -’22 season as overwhelming title favorites, my question is simple: Has a team ever been this good and this strange at the same time?
Some don’t even scratch their heads in both Kyrie’s and Durant’s directions. Many have plausibly argued that from a pure skills perspective, Durant is the best to ever exist. Give him a healthy stretch to finish his degree, and the resume will show that too. But also, without a doubt, you are so connected to Twitter that it has changed the way it is perceived to be online in general. With his twisted and shifting spirit as an internet user, he is able to change the terms of modern fame in real time and, in the process, be emotionally naked and spiritually ragged in a way the NBA has never seen before.
Not to mention the team’s third star and another MVP winner, who happens to be the most conventionally rare of the trio: James Harden. Constantly competing for historical score production and historical postgame party volumes at the same time, Harden introduces himself by default to everyone with that big beard that lets you know instantly that a normal guy isn’t waiting for you. Add in that the team’s new young coach, Steve Nash, has worked with the front office to develop an ever-experimental approach to lineups in the regular season, treating every game like another lab session, and the beer in Brooklyn still gets most amazing. No contender has taken on so many different, viable and murderous forms in such a rapid period of time, while having so fleetingly had the opportunity to take his ultimate form.
That, presumably, will change at the end of next season. After a more standard length layoff from the previous year, and given all the precautionary measures the Nets have already shown they are willing to take with their top-tier talent, plus the ridiculous depth of veterans behind them, there is no doubts that ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to get this going at full throttle in spring. The challenge for their audience is not to forget how serious they are as they distract us with their natural antics all season long.