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Kyrie Irving apologizes after a timeout from Nets due to political, social concerns in country

Kyrie Irving of the Nets controls the ball

Kyrie Irving of the Nets controls the ball during the second quarter against the Utah Jazz at Barclays Center on Jan. 5. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Some things are more important than basketball even for an ultra-wealthy NBA player like Kyrie Irving. Speaking for the first time on Monday after a two-week absence for "personal reasons," Irving stepped to the plate and acknowledged he "just needed a pause" because of emotional turmoil he is experiencing over social and political issues dividing the country.

Irving addressed his teammates before practice, apologized to fans for his absence and said he’s happy to be back, took accountability for his actions, spoke of his commitment to help those less fortunate than himself, and he touched on "mental health" issues related to his social and political concerns.

"When things become overwhelming in life, you’ve just got to take a step back and realize what’s important," Irving said. "And I love to play – it’s never been a question."

Irving last played on Jan. 5, the day before far right-wing and white-supremacist groups overran the U.S. Capitol building, actions that led to the recent impeachment of outgoing President Donald Trump for inciting insurrection. At the same time, Irving also has been upset by issues related to police brutality, and he confirmed a report that he is part of a team that purchased a home for the family of George Floyd, whose killing by police in Minneapolis last spring sparked a wave of Black Lives Matter protests.

"Just trying to do my part," Irving said of his many charitable gestures. "Help with service. That’s all."

Irving said the time off allowed him to step back and evaluate his feelings, and at the same time, he said his public platform complicates his role as a professional basketball player. In terms of his mental health, Irving said, "It’s just coming in and being balanced with yourself first and then being able to perform. With everything going on in the world politically, socially, it’s hard to ignore.

"I want to make change daily, there are so many oppressed communities, so many things going on that are bigger than just a ball going in the rim . . . I’m not the only one that’s fighting. I’m grateful to unify with others, and that’s all I tried to do. On the court, the same way. Play with a smile, leave something that I’ve felt very dear to my heart with this game. That’s all I really care about."

Coach Steve Nash expects Irving to be in the lineup when the Nets play a two-game set against the Cavaliers Wednesday and Friday nights in Cleveland. "I think Ky is working really hard mentally to put himself in a great position to perform," Nash said. "I’m proud of him for the effort he’s making. Physically, we’ll see. It was a longer layoff. So, we’ve got to monitor it."

Reacting to the trade that brought James Harden to the Nets to form a "Big 3" with himself and Kevin Durant, Irving said, "It’s just really exciting to be able to play with great players that have been in the league for a while, have been through the peaks and valleys. You know James is aligned with us in terms of experience, and adding that to our locker room is going to be great for us."

As he prepares to return, Irving emphasized he takes "full accountability" for his actions. Showing a sense of humor and perspective, Irving said, "I know I can talk in circles, but I’m just being honest here. It’s been a lot to balance. I called for help, and now, I have so many mentors and so many people reaching out and just taking things off my plate, and they are better suited for that position. So, I’ll play my role in this big time of change in the world, and others will do the same."

New York Sports