Uh-oh. Kyrie Irving still has his phone.

For the time being, he no longer has the typical nightly attention bestowed upon an NBA superstar at the peak of a career: the eyeballs of thousands of ticket-buying fans and top-of-show highlights of his games. But he still has a cellphone and a stable Internet connection — two weapons of mass transmission. And he’s not afraid to use them.

On Wednesday, Irving, the Brooklyn Nets guard who cannot participate as long as he doesn’t comply with New York City’s covid-19 vaccination mandate, sat down inside a dimly lit study, possibly in his own home. He opened Instagram, hit the “Live” button and propped his phone at an awkward level that made it appear as if he were looking down at an audience that at one point reached 105,000 viewers.

Irving told the throng of gawkers that he’s going to continue to serve others. But continue to be himself. And that he doesn’t care about money. But doesn’t want to lose money. And that we shouldn’t demonize people. But the people who speak out against him are not people at all but merely puppets.

Irving said much, much more. A word salad seasoned with “huh?” and garnished with a healthy helping of “brotha, please!” He promised he wouldn’t allow anyone to hijack his voice. Instead, this rebel without a pause (button) climbed atop his giant platform and held the public consciousness hostage because he felt what he had to say was important.

The well-meaning people in this society, we want athletes to speak up and dribble. We applaud them when they use their celebrity status to advocate for something they believe in. When their unfiltered, one-man shows start to detach from common sense, however, we could also use a break.

There’s a maturity in measuring words. In pausing to gather stray thoughts, working through them, then sharing those convictions with a friend or, if so inclined, broadcasting them to strangers on the Internet. Speaking out is honorable. But speaking with substance is heroic.

The celebrities and athletes who possess the platforms but lack prudence and spew whatever is on their minds make us walk a tightrope of encouraging their self-expression while puzzling over, for instance, their lack of self awareness during a public health crisis.


Irving: I’m not vaccinated.

Literally nobody:

Irving: Now let me hop on IG and unload all my scattered reasons why.

When Irving speaks — or dispatches anonymous sources to speak for him — he wants a microphone without the feedback. An audience that will agree with his every syllable and not one that questions how he can claim that he’s the type of person who cares “about others sometimes more than you care about yourself” yet refuses to take the shot when scientists have found the vaccinated who get infected are less likely to spread the highly contagious virus.

When he speaks, he builds an altar of folly at which his followers can worship, throwing “100″ emoji at his feet. No matter how many times he contradicts himself, his amen choir encourages him to say it louder for the puppets in the back.

It’s not so terrible that it makes you yearn for the neutrality of Michael Jordan and how he infamously avoided anything too political or controversial. But can there please be a middle ground between “Republicans buy sneakers, too” and becoming Ted Cruz’s favorite basketball player?

While we’re at it, can Irving’s stance stop overshadowing the NBA’s movement?

Irving represents the stubborn minority in a league that has achieved a high vaccination rate of 95 to 96 percent among the 450 in the workforce, according to the National Basketball Players Association. Do the math and that leaves around 20 players who remain unvaccinated. However, since Irving has greater influence than, say, a Karl-Anthony Towns — who has opened up about grief over losing his mother to covid and has used his Twitter platform to hit back at the excuses used by anti-vaxxers — the spotlight follows the star.

“Nobody is going to take the power away from me that I have speaking on these things,” Irving said.

Irving invited the public into the quiet of his study and into his inner thoughts. He didn’t even ask us to stay six feet away. Watch out, everyone: Kyrie still has his phone.