NBA star Kyrie Irving offers donations and advocates for justice

Illustration by Aleah Green

Similar to how the NBA’s regular season resumed with a doubleheader on Thursday night, the WNBA recently started competition at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Although the season was originally scheduled to begin May 15, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed tipoff back to July 25. According to CBS Sports, a number of WNBA players decided not to travel to Florida, specifically citing health concerns and a desire to fight for social justice amid the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

For the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, superstar point guard Kyrie Irving used various social media platforms — along with generous donations — to share his affection for women’s basketball and advocating for racial justice.

One of Irving’s contributions was $1.5 million to WNBA players who are sitting out this season. According to ESPN, the top salary in the women’s league is just over $200,000 annually — as compared to the $40 million Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors earned in the 2019-20 campaign.

According to a statement published by ESPN, Irving wants to help WNBA players by providing security and reinforcement, especially considering the financial burdens that come with sitting out.

“Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions,” Irving stated.

Any WNBA players who are interested in applying can visit the KAI Empowerment Initiative’s website, which lists four possible categories for qualification: sitting out the 2020 season, sharing the circumstances involved with opting out, showing medical considerations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and not receiving salary support from any other organization.

In order to fulfill these requirements, the necessary documentation must be provided by Aug. 11, and recipients will be notified Aug. 24.

Mirroring his support for the BLM movement, Irving specifically promoted #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor via his personal Instagram account. Taylor, 26, was a Black emergency room technician who was shot and killed by police officers on March 13 during an attempted drug search in Louisville, Kentucky, which occurred shortly after midnight. She had no previous criminal record and was sleeping when authorities arrived at her apartment.

In order to apprehend the police who caused Taylor’s death, Irving encouraged his followers to sign petitions, call political leaders, post on social media platforms and check voter registration statuses. He also challenged the public to educate themselves regarding Black and Indigenous communities, along with their underrepresentation.

"#SAYHERNAME: BREONNA TAYLOR," a one-hour special that examined police brutality and the fight for justice, was produced by Irving and featured fellow BLM advocates, such as journalist Jemele Hill. According to Forbes, Irving discussed the discrimination and prejudice that Black women face regularly, and the program aired July 8 on PlayersTV.

“In a time when society is calling out police brutality, social injustices and systemic racism, it is critical to magnify how these unjust behaviors and practices are directly impacting Black women,” Irving said. “I stand for Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and the countless women whose names are never said but have shared the same unfortunate fate.”

Despite Irving’s steadfast support for the BLM movement, his basketball career holds certain controversies. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick in 2011, and has since played for the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. According to Sportscasting, Irving’s tenure in Boston ended especially poorly — and with angry fans.

“By the end of year two [in Boston], with Irving heading into free agency, the one-promising marriage ended with disappointing second season and Irving shipping off to Brooklyn with Kevin Durant,” the article stated.

Max Kellerman, who cohosts ESPN’s "First Take" with Stephen A. Smith and Molly Rose, even said the Celtics and Nets both played better without Irving, adding that eventually, “it’s not a coincidence."

Regardless of Irving’s varied perception as an NBA superstar or lackluster leader, his impact off the court continues to grow. A tweet from Bleacher Report on July 28 — which displayed the subheading “Kyrie gives back” — showed that the point guard donated $323,000 and 250,000 meals throughout the New York area.

Additionally, Irving contributed 200,000 vegan Beyond Burgers to Food Bank for New York City. An article from Business Insider in 2018 listed Irving as a “famous name” who switched to a vegan diet.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Bleacher Report also documented Irving’s donation of 3,000 N95 face masks for essential workers in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is located in both North Dakota and South Dakota. A partnership between Irving and Nike also allotted 17 pallets of food across eight tribal districts.

Irving did not join the rest of the Nets in Orlando to finish the NBA season, as he recovers from shoulder surgery. However, Brooklyn still looks to solidify its current playoff position in the Eastern Conference with a matchup against the Orlando Magic on Friday afternoon.