Kyrie Irving made his long-awaited return to Barclays Center on Sunday, but his lackluster evening was not what he or brooklyn nets expected fans.

After being banned from playing home games this season due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19, New York’s private sector mandate was lifted last week, paving the way for Irving to play games. games in Brooklyn.

He did just that over the weekend, making his home debut in front of a record crowd of 18,166.

But it wasn’t the performance Nets fans were hoping for.

Irving struggled from the floor, shooting just 6 for 22 — including 1 for 9 from 3-point range — for 16 points, adding two rebounds and 11 assists, as the Charlotte Hornets beat the Nets 119-110.

The seven-time NBA All-Star then addressed his performance after the game – but he talked about more than just hoops.

“My presence there was just more important than the basketball game,” Irving said. “I was just representing a lot of people who are in a similar situation to me. And now that I can play, I think we should be open to everyone.”

“The goal of this season for me has never been to simply take a stand,” Irving continues. “It was really to make sure that I stand up for what I believe in – and freedom. Freedom – I don’t think that’s a word that’s defined in our society. I stand for freedom. It’s in all facets of my life, there’s no one enslaving me, there’s no one telling me what I’m going to do with my life, and that’s how I am.

“And if I’m tarnished, you know in terms of image, and people try to slander my name all the time, those aren’t things I forget. I haven’t forgotten anything that anybody said.”

Monday, Shannon Sharpe weighed in on Irving’s return and reacted to his post-game comments.

“I have a problem with that because I don’t like the fact that Kyrie thinks he’s a martyr,” Sharpe said. “Does Kyrie realize [that] there are people in this similar situation, but he gets an exemption because he is an athlete or an artist? So sit down. Say, “Until everyone is allowed to do whatever they want, I’m not doing anything. That’s what a martyr does! They die for the cause!”

“And they don’t get paid while they do it,” Skip Bayless added.

Kyrie Irving speaks after home debut as Brooklyn Nets lose to Charlotte Hornets I UNDISPUTED

Kyrie Irving speaks after home debut as Brooklyn Nets lose to Charlotte Hornets I UNDISPUTED

Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe react to Irving’s postgame comments.

Bayless echoed Sharpe’s thoughts, specifically pointing to Sunday’s result as a big cause for concern.

“[The Nets] are barely clinging to the nine-seater. They are a game and a half ahead of [Atlanta] Hawks for 10th place, and we all know 10th place is the last play-in spot. … You just lost to Charlotte at home in your first home game to fall to 39-36. You barely above .500, and you stank, and [Kevin Durant] stinky and your whole team stank [Sunday]. And yet, you speak of freedom?

Irving is indeed free to play, home and away, as the playoffs approach.

But unlike Sunday, he’ll likely have to turn that freedom into a few wins for the Nets if Brooklyn can right the ship as their championship quest sets sail.

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