Kyrie Irving grew up a Yankees fan in New Jersey, and he called Aaron Judge “special” one day after the Yankees slugger tied Roger Maris’ team and league record of 61 home runs Wednesday in Toronto.
The opinionated Nets star also offered his thoughts on steroids usage in sports after he initially declined to weigh in on the debate regarding whether Judge’s and Maris’ mark represents the “true” record because the others who surpassed it in the National League — Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa — were linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
“I am very opinionated, but in terms of that, I can’t speak confidently on it, man. I don’t know too much about it,” Irving said after Nets practice in Brooklyn on Thursday. “I just want to keep every game, every industry clean. That’s what I stand for.”
Knicks forward Joakim Noah was suspended by the NBA for 20 games in 2017 for testing positive for a banned substance, while Nets forward Wilson Chandler, Hawks forward John Collins, and Suns center Deandre Ayton each received 25-game bans in 2019.
Irving, who was limited to 29 games for the Nets last season because of his refusal to get vaccinated for COVID-19, added that he only has met Judge once while working out a few years ago with Giancarlo Stanton and late pitcher Jose Fernandez in Miami. But the eight-time NBA All-Star praised Judge for being a “good team-spirited guy” and someone who “always keeps his priorities first.”
“I mean, the guy’s special,” Irving added. “It’s not too often that you get a chance to see it up close, and when you do, you want to appreciate it. What he’s doing, I just wish him the best.
“I don’t want to jinx him or anything. I want to send great energy and make sure he continues it up and put on for the city.”
Judge will attempt to snap the tie with Maris with the first of three games against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium beginning Friday night.
“A lot of unseen hours that frankly no one gets to see often or sometimes even appreciate,” Irving said. “So as an artist, as an athlete, whatever you want to call me, I definitely can feel for guys when they’re hitting their highs and they’re hitting their lows. It’s all part of the game, just gotta be able to stay balanced and stay grounded.”
Roger Maris Jr. said in Toronto after Wednesday’s game that he believes Judge should be considered the “clean” record-holder once he establishes the new mark and that he — and “most people” — consider the home-run totals of PED-era players such as Bonds, McGwire and Sosa to be illegitimate.
“It means a lot, not just for me. I think it means a lot for a lot of people that [Judge is] clean, he’s a Yankee, he plays the game the right way and I think he gives people a chance to look at somebody who should be revered for hitting 62 home runs and not just as a guy who did it in the American League,’’ Maris Jr. said.
“He should be revered and celebrated just like the single-season home run champ, not just like he’s the American League home run champ,” Maris Jr. said. “He should be celebrated. I can’t think of anyone better that baseball can look up to as Aaron Judge, who is the face of baseball, to actually do that.”