Kyrie Irving rested his chin on his arms folded in front of him, looking worn down by his fight to balance his commitment to his team and his community.
He wants to help the Nets. He also wants to support the underserved.
“If you don’t create that distinction, then it’s easy to feel the weight of the world while you’re going out there and playing,” Irving said Tuesday.
Such a weight, the Brooklyn star said, that he “just needed a pause.”
Irving returned to practice with the team and could play Wednesday in Cleveland. He has missed the last seven games – five while away during a leave of absence and two more while regaining his conditioning after he was eligible to return.
He didn’t give a clear reason for his absence while speaking during a Zoom interview, telling reporters he had a lot of personal things going on.
“I’m a hometown kid so things hit a little different when family and personal stuff are going on, and that’s up to me to handle that as a man,” Irving said. “But yeah, I just take full accountability for my absence with the guys and just had a conversation with each one of them and we move on.”
He apologized to Nets fans, saying he understood their feelings because he grew up one of them in New Jersey, when the team was based there. But Irving, who has donated millions to causes important to him and confirmed working with a group that bought a home for George Floyd’s family, also made clear that his decisions are based on more than just basketball.
“I want to make changes daily,” Irving said. “There are so many oppressed communities, so many things going on that are just bigger than a ball going in the rim.”
Irving’s absence began Jan. 7, the day after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. He was fined $50,000 for violating the NBA’s health and safety protocols after he was seen in a video posted on social media during his absence at an indoor family party while not wearing a mask. He also lost nearly $900,000 of his $33.5 million salary because two of the games he missed were during a mandated quarantine period.
Irving said he was happy to be back with the team, which acquired James Harden during his absence. The Nets have won both games since the trade.
“We got some great pieces and we just move on, and I let my actions and my game speak for itself like I planned on doing,” Irving said. “Just needed a pause.”
It should end in Cleveland, where Irving’s NBA career began and where he hasn’t played since opening night of the 2017-18 season, his first with Boston after being traded by the Cavaliers.
Irving said there’s no question of his love and commitment to basketball. He may be able to direct more attention to it by sharing more responsibilities for the off-court changes he seeks.
“I’m just being honest here,” Irving said. “It’s been a lot to balance and now I called for help and now I have just so many mentors and so many people reaching out and just taking things off my plate that were never mine in the first place.”