In the summer of 2019, Kyrie Irving opted out of the final year of his deal with the Boston Celtics to join the Brooklyn Nets. Irving left behind a $21.3 million extension in exchange for a fully guaranteed 4-year, $136.5 million deal to play alongside Kevin Durant. With an average annual base salary just north of $34 million, it appeared to be a lucrative deal for the eight-time all-star.
In the three and a half years spent with the Brooklyn Nets, Irving earned $29 million more than he did in his eight full seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. However, because of the COVID-19 Pandemic and a few minor injuries, Irving was only able to suit up in 143 games for the Nets. To put this in perspective, Irving played 381 games for the Cavaliers and 127 for the Celtics.
Irving’s decision to forgo the vaccine came at a pretty hefty cost - $15,356,296 to be exact (the total amount of fines given by the Brooklyn Nets and NBA front office for violations of the NBA’s COVID safety and guidelines protocols). Even after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and fans were free to attend games, Irving was restricted from playing in home games because the city of New York had imposed a vaccine mandate for all indoor activities. Irving could conceivably play basketball at Rucker Park but not the Barclays Center. And unfortunately for Irving, it would not be until the 2022-2023 season before he began seeing a steady pattern of playing games.
All-in-all a $136,490,600 contract with $15,356,296 in fines must mean that Irving brought home an estimated total of $121,134,304 and a per-game average of $761,500 during his time in Brooklyn, right? Wrong. Once Uncle Sam and the state of New York were paid their fair share, Irving brought home closer to $500,000 per game. Considering that the average NBA player makes about $91,500 per game, Irving still made 446% more than his peers. However, Irving’s talent for the game of basketball is far from average.
On February 4, 2023, Irving and his camp requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets. This came after a tumultuous off-season in which Irving reaffirmed his commitment to the organization by signing a 1-year extension to his existing deal. Throughout the season, Irving’s camp was unable to reach a long-term extension with the Nets. And while there is speculation as to why the two parties were unable to amicably reach a deal, the key takeaway is that the two were never going to reach a long-term deal.
The Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers all seemed like potential landing spots for the multi-talented point guard. Most media personalities and sports talk shows became enamored with the idea that Irving would team up with his former teammate LeBron James. The idea that Irving and James could reunite on the day James was projected to become the league’s number-one all-time leading scorer would have made for a good story.
While most sports talk shows and NBA insiders speculated about the pair reuniting, Mark Cuban had other plans. The shark investor, billionaire, and outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks did what he does best – took a risk. Since Cuban’s time with the Dallas Mavericks, he has been unorthodox and willing to take risks. Cuban went after stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams over the past decade, but unfortunately, players would rather opt for places like Los Angeles, Miami, and New York/Brooklyn. This time, Cuban was going to take matters into his own hands.
One day later, on February 5, 2023, Dallas sent Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2027 second-round pick, 2029 first-round unprotected pick, and a 2029 second-round pick for Markieff Morris and Kyrie Irving. This was not a sign-trade deal. Cuban sent Brooklyn two of his best five players, who were still under contract for at least two more years for essentially the remainder of the 2022-2023 season. If the Dallas Mavericks are unable to reach the Championship and raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy, people will likely ridicule the trade.
Regardless, the trade with the Nets gave the Mavericks Irving’s Bird Rights.
Bird Rights – famously named after Larry Bird and the “early bird gets the worm” analogy – gives an organization the financial advantage to one of its players over other potential suitors. In layman’s terms, Dallas can offer considerably more money to Irving than any other team this offseason as he approaches free agency. By owning the contract and playing rights to Irving, they can either: let Irving walk; offer him a 2-year, $86.24 million extension; or sign him to a 5-year, $272.92 million max contract. The best any other team can offer Irving is a 4-year, $210.11 million contract. And with states like California (Lakers and Clippers) and Arizona (Suns) listed as potential suitors, it could be in Irving’s financial interest to stay put in Texas.
As a tax income free-state, Texas gives Irving an additional break he did not have in New York. In Texas, Irving will still owe federal income taxes, but he will not owe additional taxes to the state of Texas or the city of Dallas. When it is all said and done, Irving could very well earn more in five seasons with the Mavericks than his total career earnings.
It is yet to be determined whether or not Cuban’s gamble will pay off. Irving is still set to receive the remainder of his $136.5 million deal from the Mavericks' front office. With $13 million still to be paid out, and in a tax income free-state like Texas, 4-5 months spent in Dallas, Texas might be enough to convince the superstar to stay put.
Caleb Ortega is a 1L at South Texas College of Law. He served in the United States Marine Corps and is an active member of his school’s Sports & Entertainment Law Society. He can be reached on Twitter and LinkedIn.