For better or worse, Stephen A. Smith can be pretty predictable. When certain topics, like the Dallas Cowboys, come up, you know the ESPN talking head will be ready to launch into his latest rant. Recently, Kyrie Irving has become one of those inescapable topics.
Even though the 2021-22 NBA season has come to an end, Stephen A. still has plenty to discuss when it comes to the Brooklyn Nets guard. On May 5, for example, he critiqued Irving’s claims that he had lived “the life of a martyr.”
While agreeing with Smith can be somewhat of a risky proposition, in this case, he’s hit the nail on the head.
Stephen A. Smith calls out Kyrie Irving for comparing himself to a martyr
Before going any further, we need to establish some background context. Kyrie Irving recently appeared on The ETCs podcast and compared his experience with New York City’s vaccine mandate to martyrdom.
“I had the opportunity to play away games still, but there was no plan in place, there was no vision of how it was going to work for our team,” Irving explained (h/t New York Post). “And I think that really impacted not just me, but a lot of people. Just had to sit in that hot seat for a little bit and deal with it. The life of a martyr, bro.”
As you might expect, that line caught Stephen A. Smith’s attention.
“We’re just gonna ignore that last line,” he said. “Life of a martyr. … Was Kyrie Irving the only member of the Brooklyn Nets who was surprised by the mandate? Was he the only member of the Brooklyn Nets who didn’t know, and then when New York City slapped the mandate, it threw everybody for a loop? Last time I checked, that was everybody on the Brooklyn Nets. But, once it happened, everybody had to make a decision. Every single person on the team made the decision. ‘We trying to win the chip.’ And the dude responsible for coxing everybody to come there said, ‘Nah, y’all on your own.’ That’s the dude calling himself a martyr.”
Stephen A. also threw in a few jokes about how Irving had figured out the ingenious way to be paid without working, but the message was clear. No matter what the guard did, it wasn’t martyrdom.
Smith took things further in another clip that didn’t reach his Twitter account
While Smith did make a fair point in the segment that he shared on Twitter, that wasn’t the entirety of his Irving take. If anything, his most compelling argument didn’t reach the platform.
On Reddit, however, one user shared a Streamable link with another clip from the segment. There, we see Stephen A. get a bit more direct about Kyrie’s hypocrisy.
“He’s talking about to give a voice to the voiceless,” the ESPN host said. “Well, when you be speaking? We got people who are still unemployed in New York City because of the mandate. If you really, really wanted to make some noise, you woulda said, ‘Hell with that, I don’t give a damn that I can come back. Imma stand with them.’ You ain’t doing that. You chilling. Where you at?”
For context, Irving did become somewhat of a symbol for those who opposed vaccine mandates. When he took to Instagram Live in October 2021 to deliver some public comments, the Washington Post noted that Kyrie called his situation something “bigger than the game” and “repeatedly expressed sympathy toward employees who have lost their jobs because of vaccine mandates at their workplaces.”
While we don’t know what happens outside of the public eye, Irving never appeared to do anything to support those employees. As Smith said, the issue seemed to drop off the radar once he returned to the court.
“And where are you [now],” Stephen A. asked Kyrie. “In Jersey. Or some other place. Chilling. And when somebody calls you accountable for it, your response is [that] you a martyr. This brother is, he really is on another level. Take that whatever way you want to. He’s in a stratosphere none of us are in.”
Kyrie Irving seems to be acting like a martyr in the worse sense of the word
While the dictionary definition of martyrdom involves someone dying for their beliefs, another meaning does exist. Colloquially, if someone is being a martyr, they’re looking to make themselves the victim in situations that don’t really require sacrifice.
Even if we set aside the fact that Irving is very much alive, he’s fitting more into the second form of martyrdom than the first.
Part of the reason why martyrs are venerated is because they held onto their beliefs until death. Whether we’re talking about historical saints or someone more contemporary like Martin Luther King Jr., there’s a sense of putting the collective before the individual. It’s less about refusing to recant one’s beliefs and more about the fact that the person in question is willing to hold onto their truth, even when facing death.
As Stephen A. Smith said, Irving doesn’t appear to be holding onto anything. While he presumably remains unvaccinated, he really hasn’t raised the subject since he was allowed to return to the hardwood. As far as we know — again, there’s always the possibility that these things have happened in private — he hasn’t cooperated in vaccination efforts, supported those whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic, or anything else. He ‘won’ his individual battle and has seemingly moved on.
And while the guard’s allowed to do that, that doesn’t exactly mesh with martyrdom. That word implies sacrifice; making millions as a part-time employee, then moving on once your situation improves isn’t exactly comparable to giving your life for a cause.
As I’ve somewhat written before, this has become somewhat of a pattern for Irving. He takes a stance, whether that’s saying the earth is flat or refusing to be vaccinated, and sticks by it for a while. Then, the guard seems to move on with a convenient excuse. Claims about the shape of the planet weren’t genuine; they were just a commentary on how rumors spread on social media. The guard’s absence wasn’t because of his own choices, but the lack of a plan made him a martyr.
While no one can deny Irving’s on-court abilities, that act is starting to wear thin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “More than 520 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been given in the United States from December 14, 2020, through January 10, 2022. … COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.”