Kyrie Irving debate turns personal on ESPN’s ‘First Take’

Kyrie Irving’s weekend trade to the Dallas Mavericks was a significant topic of conversation across the sports-related airwaves Monday morning, but the discussion took an ugly turn when Stephen A. Smith and Jay Williams appeared to get personal during ESPN’s ‘First Take’ program.

During a dialogue breaking down Irving’s move from the Brooklyn Nets to the Mavericks, Williams seemed to insinuate Smith was criticizing Irving’s controversial off-court dealings more harshly than other professional athletes.

Smith responded by labeling Williams’ opinion as ‘BS,’ which led to Williams, who was appearing as a guest on the show, calling Smith ‘very emotional’ and lamenting his lack of time given to speak by Smith, the program’s longtime host.

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Why is Kyrie Irving controversial?

Although supremely talented on the court, Irving has been a highly controversial player for multiple seasons across tenures with multiple teams.

Irving made three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers but wanted out and was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2017. After initially stating he wanted to remain in Boston, he left for the Nets in 2021.

Prior to his trade Sunday, Irving played 143 of a possible 278 games over three seasons in Brooklyn. His refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine sidelined him for many games during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. His promotion of an antisemitic film and refusal to immediately apologize resulted in a suspension earlier this season.

Irving also said he believed the Earth was flat in a 2017 podcast appearance, although he later walked back those comments. During the same podcast, Irving also expressed his belief that former President John F. Kennedy was killed to ‘end the bank cartel in the world.’

Why did Stephen A. Smith and Jay Williams argue?

It wasn’t the first time Smith made headlines for coming to verbal blows on the air.

Smith, a longtime sports broadcaster, is known for his argumentative style and fiery rants when discussing the NBA and other high-profile sports topics. It wasn’t surprising to see him worked up about Irving, whom he has criticized in the past.

Williams, meanwhile, accused Smith of ‘having a personal issue’ with the three-time All-NBA point guard. Williams said Smith seemed ‘triggered,’ which led to a tense exchange that ended with moderator Molly Qerim interjecting.

Smith: I’m always triggered.

Williams: No, you’re not.

Smith: Oh, yes, I am.

Williams: No, you’re not.

Smith: Yes, I am.

Williams: No, you are not.

Smith: OK.

Despite the show’s segment seemingly focused on Irving, what resulted was essentially a heated debate between Smith and Williams taking personal jabs at one another instead of breaking down a trade that is sure to have playoff ramifications in both conferences.

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