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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Rohan Nadkarni

The Nets Have Reached a New Low

I am tired of the Nets trying so hard to insult my intelligence.

For example, on Oct. 28, team owner Joe Tsai tweeted “This is bigger than basketball” in reference to Kyrie Irving, whom had recently posted a link to an antisemitic film to his millions of Twitter followers. Tsai said he was disappointed in Irving, apparently so disappointed he didn’t punish his point guard in any way, then let the team do him a favor by not making him available to the media Monday.

How did Tsai follow this up? He fired Steve Nash so he could hire Ime Udoka … the coach so toxic the Celtics were willing to potentially jeopardize a title team so they could suspend him for a full year. A coach who was found by an independent law firm to have made crude comments to a woman below him on the organizational chart … and then began to have an improper romantic relationship with that staffer.

The Nets are embarrassing. And instead of trying to do anything to salvage what’s left of their reputation, they’re leaning further into their desperation to win at all costs.

This is, unfortunately, not new for this franchise. As it relates to Irving, the team briefly exhibited a backbone last season, banishing him from the team as he refused to accept a local mandate to take a life-saving vaccine in some kind of misguided and incomprehensible public stand. Then when the losing piled up, the Nets welcomed Irving back into the fold with open arms, allowing him to play part time.

It was more of the same this year. If the team really did condemn Irving’s posting of the antisemitic film, why didn’t they do anything about it? The same can be said for the NBA and NBPA, who released comical statements not even naming Irving when they allegedly took stands against antisemitism. Tsai’s tweet wasn’t even a tap on the wrist. It was a self-serving collection of words meant to make us think he possibly cares about anything more than winning basketball games. (Tsai, by the way, has his own collection of issues, most glaringly his Chinese company Alibaba working with China’s government to help create a surveillance state that has had deadly consequences on a massive scale.)

The imminent Udoka hiring is another slap in the face. The Nets rather blatantly leaked to reporters they had done their “due diligence” as it relates to Udoka. What does that even mean? What could they have possibly done in the few hours between Nash’s firing and Udoka’s hiring that could remotely fall under the realm of diligence?

Of course, I am not naive enough to believe Udoka’s hiring was only hours in the works. Brooklyn had reportedly been vetting him for days, which is yet another sterling example of how to run a basketball team: Figuring out how to hire an employed head coach while your own is still employed. The Nets may even be happy their slow start gave them a path to hiring Udoka over Nash, who hadn’t exactly been setting the world on fire with his coaching acumen.

On Tuesday, general manager Sean Marks tried his best to delay the impending Udoka controversy, claiming the team had “absolutely not” hired a coach yet, as if anyone was supposed to believe it. Marks’s attempts at damage control also extended to Irving, who the team again hid from the media so he could “simmer down.” Irving is too much of a threat to the Nets’ image to keep talking, but too important to the team to keep him from shooting 2-of-12 for four points in another loss.

At this point the Nets should stop pretending. Don’t say “this is bigger than basketball.” Tsai and the front office should just say they want to win, and it’s their job to focus on the court. Antisemitism, pushing harmful conspiracies, potentially harassing women in the workplace … the Nets should just come right out and say they don’t care about these things when they get in the way of winning.

Brooklyn is reportedly on the verge of hiring Ime Udoka. 

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Instead, they want to make us believe they’re doing things the right way. That they magically vet Udoka. That they’re concerned with Irving. It’s all nonsense. Brooklyn is desperate to make something of the Kevin Durant–Irving duo, that ownership and the front office keep doubling down on controversy instead of blowing the whole thing up. Doubling down on a team that’s so far proven to be nothing more than disappointing, toothless, and ineffective.

I’m also not naive enough to believe there is a sports organization in the world that exists that would not make abhorrent exceptions in an ability to win. Several NFL teams are probably still upset they didn’t acquire Deshaun Watson and his 26 lawsuits for sexual misconduct. And in the wake of the Nets, there will undoubtedly be a strain of Twitter contrarianism that will go something like, Obviously Udoka was going to get another job! Did you really think no one would hire him? Do you really expect teams not to prioritize winning? Did you really think the NBA was progressive? Why are you expecting a level of morality?

It’s not that I am surprised to see a team hire Udoka. It’s not that I’ve bought into social justice platitudes from the owner class. It’s that I’m exhausted. And it’s exhausting to think people will make some kind of pseudo-justification for the Nets’ behavior because it’s the way the real world works, as if that’s a good reason not to call out bulls--- when we see it. Should we not expect more? Should we accept not even an appearance of consequences for some of the people involved here?

By now, it’s clear the Nets have an unlimited capacity for shame. The NBA will enable it. Even some media members will, lest they lose their ability to speak with people “in the know” while Irving is in a contract season. And frankly, most people will accept it, and add whatever this situation is on to the growing list of moral compromises made to enjoy seemingly anything. I don’t blame anyone who still expects better and/or wants to hold these teams to higher standards, especially when they want to pretend they have any level of integrity. The Nets want us to believe they can have it both ways when they’ve made what side they’re really on more obvious than ever. 

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