What to make of Kyrie Irving and the Mavericks, and the preparation for immense turbulence
After Sunday’s blockbuster trade that saw the Dallas Mavericks acquire Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets, a Mavs fan tweeted this is the “lowest he’s felt in his 20 years” of fandom.
How is that possible on a day where Dallas finally landed the second superstar it’s craved for more than a decade?
It’s because the Mavericks are quietly one of the NBA’s most drama-filled franchises not located in Los Angeles or New York. They just wear blue and white instead of purple and gold.
Trading for Irving is a flashpoint moment for the franchise and its fans — the perfect union of the on- and off-court sagas which have surrounded Dallas for over a decade.
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs beat the Miami Heat in 2011 for the franchise’s first and only championship. Since then, being a fan of this franchise has been complicated.
Let’s start with the basketball side.
We were able to witness the twilight of Nowitzki’s legendary career and the passing of the baton to a new franchise icon in 23-year-old superstar Luka Doncic — a celebration of the franchise’s past and hope for the future.
But in the shadows were disastrous trades for Lamar Odom, Rajon Rondo and Kristaps Porzingis — all of which backfired and set the franchise back years. And those ill-fated deals were magnified further by multiple strikeouts in free agency, most notably the DeAndre Jordan Hostage Crisis of 2015.
In 2021, there was the resignation of championship-winning coach Rick Carlisle, the messy firing of longtime executive Donnie Nelson and departure of Haralabos Voulgaris — a sports gambler hired by team governor Mark Cuban who may or may not have become a “shadow GM,” depending on whom you believe.
And last season’s surprising run to the Western Conference finals had a bucket of cold water dumped on it by Jalen Brunson’s departure to the New York Knicks and Dallas’ massive miscalculation to not offer him an extension midseason.
Any of that would’ve been enough to sustain an entire week of content on New York sports radio.
And then … there’s the non-basketball stuff.
A toxic workplace culture rife with sexual harassment came to light in a 2018 Sports Illustrated investigation into the Mavs’ front office. The business side of the franchise faced a reckoning which ended in an overhaul and sanctions from the league.
The Mavericks fired director of player personnel Tony Ronzone in 2021, one of the key figures in scouting Doncic, after sexual assault allegations.
After Carlisle’s departure in 2021, the Mavs hired former franchise legend Jason Kidd as their new head coach, who has his own past with domestic abuse.
Nelson is suing the Mavericks in what looks like an ugly lawsuit.
And this is the franchise that can provide a stable culture for Kyrie Irving?
Which brings us to Sunday.
Cuban and the Mavs’ brain trust have spent the better part of a decade trying to find another superstar to pair with their franchise cornerstones — Doncic now and Nowitzki before him.
They found him in Irving — an eight-time All-Star who, at his best, is one of the league’s most skilled players and lethal ballhandlers. But, at his worst, is a mercurial presence who has sabotaged the three teams he’s already suited up for in his career.
Doncic and Irving are a dynamite backcourt on paper, especially if Dallas isn’t done tweaking the roster ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. The Mavs might have assembled the best duo in the league and could theoretically win a title this year in a wide-open Western Conference.
Under normal circumstances a Mavs fan (full disclosure: like myself) should be thrilled.
But these are the Mavericks, and this is Irving.
We all got our Twitter jokes off about Irving believing the Earth is flat.
But that turned into Irving missing almost half a season in Brooklyn for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with the New York City mandate and sharing anti-vax views.
And that turned into Irving sharing a documentary on Twitter containing dangerous, antisemitic rhetoric and initially refusing to unequivocally apologize and condemn it. In his first news conference with Dallas, Irving had to explain why he deleted the apology he finally made.
That’s on top of wearing out welcomes in Cleveland and Boston before Brooklyn.
Instead of counting the minutes for Irving’s likely debut on Wednesday, I’m left having an existential crisis about the moral implications of rooting for a team which willingly traded for Irving, hired a head coach with a history of domestic abuse and already has a spotty track record when it comes to its business culture.
Sports fandom can be complicated, and the Mavericks aren’t the first team to make a decision which may be morally ambiguous. They won’t be the last either — there’s a football team in the same area which deals with a controversy a day.
But desperate times call for desperate measures. The Mavs know the clock is ticking on putting a championship team around Doncic, and he may not be as loyal as Nowitzki was. When another star is on the market, you have to strike. It just happened to be this star.
But where does that leave fans like myself? Like the guy in my Twitter mentions?
Do I fist-pump if Irving hits a big shot in the playoffs or sit still with my arms crossed? Is it possible to appreciate Irving’s brilliance on the court while recognizing the problematic nature of some of his views off it?
The other difference here is the faces of the Mavs have usually been easy to root for. Nowitzki was the epitome of class and loyalty, and watching Doncic play basketball is like watching an artist at work.
Perhaps I’m realizing I was a Dirk Nowitzki fan and not a Dallas Mavericks fan.
Irving, meanwhile, makes rooting for him difficult at every turn, even with his skill.
This might be different if Irving showed remorse or growth for his prior views and actions. Or if Dallas displayed a little more stability over the last decade.
But this is Irving, and this is the Mavericks. Both of which make this all the more complicated for a fan.