Athletes today would like to think they’re seen more as humans, but really they’re like content for their audience. Their on-court exploits are just as effective fodder for our social media feeds as their off-court activities, regardless if they’re thriving or struggling.
Take Zion Williamson. Last season, the Pelicans’ prodigious forward kept losing recovery progress on his foot injury. New Orleans went from announcing possible return dates for Zion to going quiet to just announcing when he was set to be re-evaluated. He ended up not appearing in any games last season.
He was barely present on the bench, unlike other injured players who show up at games in street clothes. There were even rumors of him wanting out of New Orleans. As it turned out, Williamson’s mental state wasn’t at its best. Not only were the setbacks with his foot causing him distress, he was also feeling the heat from fans and media commenting on his weight, commitment to New Orleans, and work ethic.
Then, there was Kyrie Irving. He started the season trying to make a statement, refusing to get vaccinated. Due to the New York State COVID-19 protocols at the time, that meant Irving was not allowed to play in their home games.
Instead of getting the jab that has saved millions of lives, Irving opted to continue peddling the disinformation that has led to the deaths of millions of Americans. The Nets did not let him be a part-time player, until they relented midway through the season as health protocol absences swept through the league.
The Nets dealt with a lot of problems last season, but it felt like 80 percent of them stemmed from Irving. This offseason, Irving continued to be a disinformation spreader on his social media.
Despite all of that and the turmoil within the team, Irving is still a Brooklyn Net.
Tomorrow, these two stories collide when the Pelicans visit Brooklyn for their season opener. That’s two teams placing their hopes on two volatile superstars.
For New Orleans, they’re praying for a healthy season for Zion. The preseason had Williamson return and show off his dominant form. This was almost derailed after it was reported Williamson played through an ankle injury in their penultimate game. But Pelicans fans exhaled when Williamson said he was fine and available for tomorrow.
Williamson playing just more than half of the Pelicans’ games this season would be considered a success. After all, this is the same Zion that averaged 27 points on 61.1 percent shooting in his one healthy season in 2020-2021. You’re adding that to a Pelicans team that made a surprise to the playoffs last season behind stellar performances from CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas. They also have a promising supporting cast in Herb Jones, Devonte’ Graham, Jaxson Hayes and Jose Alvarado. All they need is their bulldozer.
The Nets are walking a tight rope made of Kyrie Irving’s musings. They’re sort of walking multiple tight ropes, but some of their worries have been alleviated. After wanting a trade in the offseason, Kevin Durant seems to have settled down. Ben Simmons, who, like Williamson, couldn’t hurdle his mental health issues last season, is actually looking solid on the court and saying the right things off it. Irving seems to be the only one left with a ton of baggage.
If the Nets stay healthy, they could again ransack the league. Simmons has always drawn more attention for his shortcomings, but he is one of the most skilled players in the league on both ends. Adding him to the offensive Cirque du Soleil that is Durant and Irving should be enough for the Nets to coast through the regular season and into the playoffs with home court advantage. But the Nets haven’t allowed themselves to coast for a while.
Where to watch
You can catch the Pelicans-Nets game live tomorrow on NBA League Pass at 7:30 AM. If you’re not up by then, NBA TV Philippines has an early rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals as Luka Doncic and the Mavericks visit Phoenix.