The Brooklyn Nets have been having a great season, posting a 43-23 record through Tuesday (second-best in the NBA’s Eastern Conference). Amidst that, though, there’s been some media drama, particularly around star guard Kyrie Irving. Irving (seen above during a game last February) has long had some issues with the media, and he even took some blame for the state of that relationship in 2019, but he’s escalated his complaints about media outlets and actions against them this season. And that’s now led to a second fine for him and the team.
Irving put out a statement in December that he would issue postgame statements this season instead of talking to media, citing COVID-19 fears (despite league and team protocols allowing for remote interviews) and also saying this would allow him to “ensure my message is conveyed properly.” He then lived up to that, refusing to participate in postgame interviews. That’s a violation of the NBA/NBPA agreed-upon media policies, and that saw Irving and the Nets fined $25,000 each in December. But that fine didn’t lead to change; Irving has still refused to take part in most post-game media availabilities, and has also avoided league-mandated media availabilities like a pre-All Star Game one. So the NBA has now issued further fines for him and the team, this time of $35,000 each:
The following was released by the NBA. pic.twitter.com/1DwRZMHPq5
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) May 5, 2021
The thing is, though, these fines are of such minimal magnitude that they’re unlikely to change anything. As per Spotrac, Irving signed a four-year, $136,490,600 fully-guaranteed contract with the Nets ahead of the 2019-20 season. Even a total of $55,000 in fines for him is just slightly over 1/2500th of that contract value. And the Nets, with an estimated franchise value of $2.65 billion (per Statista), can definitely afford to pay $55,000 if that helps keep Irving happy.
That’s not necessarily a call to boost the level of these fines. There’s only so much player interviews post-game can offer anyway. And there are plenty of ways for players to show up without actually saying anything of note, as Marshawn Lynch famously illustrated ahead of the Super Bowl in 2015. (And Lynch’s “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” response is a useful blueprint for athletes who want to not talk without getting fined for not talking.) And the fines seem to be at an okay level to encourage most players to participate. And if Irving wants to make it clear that he’s not talking to media, and wants himself and his team to pay fines for that decision, he can make that decision. And there are plenty of other Nets’ players NBA reporters can talk to, who might have more interesting insights to offer than vaccine skepticism and flat-earth theories. It’s not necessarily worth cranking up the overall level of fines for this just because Irving doesn’t want to talk.
The Irving situation is notable overall, though, because it illustrates just how fragile the post-game media situation can be. Having access to players is certainly helpful for reporters, and that’s certainly helpful for the league, and that’s how you wind up with agreements that include fines for non-compliance. And, by and large, that works; the vast majority of teams and players follow those protocols, and fines like this are rare. But the Irving situation shows that the fines certainly aren’t enough to deter a player and a team that’s willing to pay them in order to avoid post-game media contact. Maybe that’s a wider problem, maybe it’s not. For now, though, it’s led to an interesting case where a player and team are deliberately violating agreed-upon protocols, but are only paying a penalty that’s pretty easy for both of them to pay.
[NBA PR on Twitter; photo from Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports]