The Nets faced Golden State on Monday, but it was hard to forget about the opponent that will be in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
Kyrie Irving is scheduled to play his first game in Brooklyn since he was traded to the Mavericks on Feb. 6 last year. Irving played 143 games in 3 1⁄2 tumultuous seasons with the Nets after signing as a free agent in 2019.
Irving’s return likely will produce harsher reactions than Kevin Durant’s first game back on Jan. 31.
In 2021-22, Irving was ineligible to play home games most of the season for his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
In 2022, he was suspended for eight games after sharing a video that contained antisemitic tropes and failing to “unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs.” Irving later posted an apology on social media.
Whatever reaction fans have for Irving on Tuesday can be understood, given his actions and the lack of greater success with him, Durant and James Harden. The Nets won only one playoff series with them.
The Nets who played with Irving say they will welcome him back fondly. “Even from the first moment when I was here, [it was] him being a great dude on and off the court,” Royce O’Neale said at shootaround. “Being one of the leaders that we had. His work ethic and the way he plays, it’s fun to watch.”
Cam Thomas said earlier this season that Irving was a mentor when he was out of the Nets’ rotation.
Nic Claxton, Irving’s teammate since 2019, said Irving was a similar figure for him early in his career. “Just him being there for me, especially when I was going through my injuries and everything,” Claxton said. “When I wasn’t playing, he was giving me books to read. Just being a solid friend for me.”
He added, “He should be remembered however people want to remember him. That’s whoever’s own opinion. At the end of the day, he doesn’t care about that. His mission in life is to be more than just a basketball player.”