On Kyrie Irving, the destruction of Twitter, and why the Rockets should be better
What a mess
Apologies for the hiatus. Had a lot going on (including a vacation), but I’m back now. The written content returns today and the podcast returns on Tuesday.
I have a lot of thoughts on what’s transpired on Twitter, the Rockets, and the NBA so bear with me on this chaotic, blog-type post.
Where do we even start?
So everyone reading this probably knows that Kyrie Irving was suspended from play after he promoted an anti-semitic film on social media. This comes a year after Irving took an anti-vaccination stance that directly or indirectly led to both James Harden and Kevin Durant demanding trades out of Brooklyn. It comes five years after Irving’s comments about flat-earth theory on the “Road Trippin” podcast blew up on social media. It should be noted that Irving has yet to retract his stance on the Covid-19 vaccine, but he has apologized for the flat-earth theory and recently apologized for his promotion of the anti-semitic film on Instagram.
While I obviously can’t read his mind or speak for him, I think most reasonable people assume Irving is probably not a hateful bigot. That doesn’t excuse his promotion of the film, nor does it mean he should be off the hook. I personally believe Irving needs to more forcefully reprimand the film and the ideas that it espouses and show his supposed remorse in a press conference setting. Even if he wasn’t trying to cause harm, he directly brought more attention to the film and it’s hateful messaging. There’s plenty of data out to show how hate speech leads to crimes against minorities, particularly when it comes from a public figure.
I won’t pretend like I didn’t find Irving’s flat earth comments to be amusing like many others at the time. It felt so benign, but it obviously influenced enough people for Kyrie to feel an obligation to apologize. And more importantly, it was a sign that Irving is someone who is inclined to believe crazy conspiracy theories because he doesn’t trust big institutions or mainstream media. We have a growing number of people in our society like this and it’s really easy for them to fall prey to ridiculous things online like flat-earth theory.
Think about it.
We all have someone in our lives that didn’t get the Covid-19 vaccine for one reason or another. We all have someone in our lives who is constantly espousing conspiracy theories. And we certainly all have people in our lives that don’t consume traditional news outlets. Maybe they weren’t always like this, but they are now.
The proliferation of internet, social media algorithms, and public figures who entertain crazy conspiracy theories rising to prominence over the last two decades (Kanye West, Joe Rogan, etc..) have only made this problem worse.
And I won’t pretend like a healthy amount of skepticism towards big institutions isn’t warranted, especially if you’re a minority in this country. Believing in a conspiracy theory or two can also be harmless, but it gets dangerous when people can’t trust history, science, and objective truths. It reaches new levels of scary when we’re all working off of a different set of facts and basing decisions that impact other people on these facts. These people become targets of bad-faith actors who welcome skepticism in long-trusted institutions because it helps serve their agenda.
And that’s why I find the Kyrie Irving story important on a human level. As frustrating as it may be, we can’t give on these people. We have to find ways to communicate realities to them without forcing them deeper into whatever echo-chambers and dark recesses of the internet they’re currently occupying. I understand people who want Kyrie to show contrition. He’s a public figure with a moral responsibility to not lead people astray.
But you can’t bully someone into changing their beliefs overnight. That seldom works, especially for public figures who believe the mainstream media is out to get them in the first place. It’s best to persuade, point them in the right direction, and if all else fails, pass the baton to someone else. More specifically, it’s best to pass the baton to someone you suspect they’ll listen to.
Kyrie is just one person. But as I said before, some of the people who fall down these dark rabbit holes are our loved ones. As tempting as it may be, you can’t quit on them or cut them out from your life. You also can’t badger them when they frustrate you. Kind of like coaching in basketball, not everyone responds well to that style of leadership. It’s a moral imperative and in the long-run, we’re always better off with more friends and family.
In the early 2010s, Houston radio stations had this clever text notification system for Rockets news. As a diehard fan, this is how I got the bulk of my news about the team’s transactions at the time. For NBA rumors, I relied onto aggregations sites RealGM and HoopsHype. While I was watching the 2012 NBA Draft with my father (the original diehard fan of the family), he showed me how prominent NBA reporters Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Stein broke every pick minutes before they were announced by David Stern on the broadcast.
I created my first Twitter account that night.
The primary purpose of the account was to keep up with NBA news, but I also used it to engage with friends and family like everyone else. Although I read a lot of NBA writing, I had no personal ambition to become a journalist until years later. In the meantime, I was tweeting and posting my basketball opinions to FaceBook to little fanfare from my social circle. In 2014, I decided to start blogging about my favorite team and create a dedicated Twitter account for my takes. Again, I had no goal of this becoming a legitimate career path and was more focused on giving my Rockets opinions to an audience who actually cared about them.
It was only in 2015 when I started really taking it seriously. My writing was finding an audience and local blogs started reaching out. I amassed 100 followers (my original goal), then 200, and then 2000 off the backs of some viral tweets and vines (Vine was a Twitter-owned short video platform, the precursor to TikTok). Then I started a podcast on the advice of a mentor and pretty soon I had my own Rockets blog with writers way more talented than me.
Eventually I started getting paid for my work, gained credentials to cover the team full-time, and the rest is history.
The point I’m trying to make is I owe my entire journalism career to this platform. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Does it drive me crazy sometimes? Hell yeah.
But there’s nothing like it anywhere else. The concept of “live-tweeting” doesn’t exist on a platform with as many active users as Twitter. Thousands of content creators have made names for themselves on Twitter and depend on it for their livelihoods. If the platform truly sucked as much as we like to joke it does, we wouldn’t be on it. We can all be honest about that.
Can it be improved? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it needs to die. I despise the fact that an eccentric billionaire with too much free time is on the verge of killing it. This was clearly a vanity project for him. For a lot of people, this isn’t a game. It’s their livelihoods.
Fortunately, I’ve built this audience on Substack long before that narcissist purchased Twitter. However, that’s not the case for a lot of my peers in the industry and it absolutely sucks.
Best places to find me:
Mastodon (new): @SalmanAliNBA@mastadon.world
We’re still only 15 games into the NBA season. However, it appears the Houston Rockets are on-pace to be as bad as they were last year, if not worse. After winning 20 games last year, FiveThirtyEight has the Rockets projected to finish this year with 19 wins. When you look at how the roster got better over the summer, both by addition and internal improvement, this would be incredibly disappointing.
Simply put, the Rockets should be better than this. That old adage of young teams being bad does not apply in this situation. Is it true most of the time? Sure, but that’s only because most young teams have only two or three above replacement level players and the rest of the roster is usually players destined to not make it to their second contract. Not counting Bruno Fernando, the Rockets have seven such players this year (per Basketball Reference’s definition).
As a point of comparison, the Orlando Magic also have seven such players and are projected to win 25 games, per FiveThirtyEight. Basically, Houston has too many good players on the roster to be this bad as a team. They’re underperforming and while it may benefit them in the Wembanyama/Henderson lottery, it could kill them in 2024.
If Rockets fans looked across the street at the presumed-to-be-rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder, they’d see why. Despite being out second overall pick Chet Holmgren for the season, the Thunder look like a serious threat to make the play-in tournament this year. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems to have made the leap from burgeoning talent to future multi-time All-Star. This is not a team likely to be at the bottom of the lottery for much longer. They’re ready to win, which means if Houston doesn’t make a serious jump next year, their pick-swap obligation to OKC could really bite them in the ass.
It’s been done before, but it’s very hard to go from putrid to good in one season. This means Houston has to show some competence quickly or the noise about Stephen Silas’ future with the team will reach a fever pitch this summer.
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Great post. I really enjoyed it.
Hi Salman. I've enjoyed your writing in the past, but I have to say that I'm pretty dissapointed with this post. It seems to be apologetic for someone (Irving) who went beyond just saying something wrong or insensitive. He (Irving) endorsed something that is antisemitic. That's more than just saying something wrong. For example, what if he said he liked a documentary that suggested something factually wrong, but is also an unflattering stereotype of Muslims. I'm sure you would not just find that hurtful, but would find others who argue to give him a second chance to also be hurtful (if not maybe even more hurtful). I'm Jewish, and I deal with antisemitism all the time (especially when I was growing up in Houston). I don't need Kyrie Irving out of the league. I don't even agree with the effectiveness of his punishment. But it's dissapointing to me to see people who want to defend Irving. I think that speaks even more about them than it does Irving.