Kyrie Irving and Black NBA players aren’t anybody’s ‘property’

Jackie MacMullen

Jackie MacMullen
Image: Getty Images

Jackie MacMullan is one of the world’s best sportswriters and has covered a Black league in the NBA for decades. As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, you would think she would have a good grasp on the diminished role minorities have historically played in sports.

You thought wrong.

Recently, we found out that not only does MacMullan not understand it, but that she believes that Kyrie Irving and other Black, and white, players in the NBA are “property.” This is the verbiage of a “Karen.”

“Well, so I will tell you this,” she told Bill Simmons on a recent episode of The Ryen Russillo Podcast. “I was thinking about all the conversations I’ve had with Kyrie through the years. One of them I had, I don’t know, two years ago, we got into an argument about, you know, something, and he’s like, ‘Well, there shouldn’t be an NBA draft. Players should be able to go wherever they want to go. We’re not someone’s property.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah you are dude, that’s the way it works. That’s why you get paid all these millions.’”

Even after everything that’s happened in the era of Trump, the events of 2020, and what’s already taken place this year, MacMullan’s mentality is yet another example of how so many in White America look at Black athletes solely as entertainment, as property. They aren’t people, just tools that help them escape from the realities of their lives and racism.

MacMullan has never been anyone’s “property.” The Boston Globe didn’t own her when she worked there, and neither does ESPN right now. She didn’t get drafted out of college, she’s been free to make her own career decisions.

Back in 2017, Draymond Green started a conversation about the term “owner,” as he felt it was inappropriate to still be used in today’s NBA that is dominated by Black players on the floor and white owners in the front office in a post-Donald Sterling era.

“Very rarely do we take the time to re-think something and say, ‘Maybe that’s not the way,’” Green said back then. “Just because someone was taught that 100 years ago doesn’t make that the right thing today. And so, when you look at the word ‘owner,’ it really dates back to slavery. The word ‘owner,’ ‘master’ — it dates back to slavery … we just took the words and we continued to put it to use.”

The conversation that Green started led to the league moving away from the word “owner” and using the term “governor,” which is something that MacMullan is fully aware of.

“I don’t want to overreact to the term because, as I said earlier, people end up twisting themselves into knots avoiding the use of the word ‘owner,’” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in 2019. “But we moved away from that term years ago with the league. We call our team owners ‘governors’ of the team and ‘alternate governors.’ So I think it makes sense. As I said, I don’t want to overreact … but I’m sensitive to it, and I think to the extent that teams are moving away from the term, we’ll stick with using Governor.”

The most interesting aspect of MacMullan’s conversation with Irving is that we don’t know exactly when it happened. Because if it took place “two years ago” as she said, it might have been around the time where she had the most access to Irving, as she’s worked in Boston for decades when he was dropping hints that he wasn’t coming back, which is something that still angers Celtics fans, given that Irving once pledged to re-sign with the team. But, despite the timing of the initial conversation, the decision to bring it to light at this moment feels like an unnecessary shot at Irving, given that his mysterious and enigmatic behavior of late has people trying to figure out someone that’s a Rubik’s cube, and doesn’t want to be solved.

Questioning and being critical of the way Irving has handled and communicated his absences due to “personal reasons” are fair game, especially since his teammates, coaches, and general manager don’t seem like they have a clue as to why he’s away from the team, especially after he was shown on social media attending a birthday party for his sister maskless, an apparent violation of the NBA’s COVID protocols.

But let’s not forget that this is the same man that donated thousands of masks, large amounts of food to the needy, and nearly $2 million last year to different charitable causes, including the WNBA so that players who opted out of their season in the bubble could still receive their salaries. And on Monday, we found out he bought a house for George Floyd’s family.

That doesn’t look like a man that’s anybody’s property. But, this situation does feel like Jackie MacMullan is a woman that’s upset that Black players, like Kyrie Irving, are operating like … owners of themselves.

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