Nets guard Kyrie Irving is facing backlash for posting a link on Twitter to an antisemitic film last month.
For a week, he declined to apologize or say that he held no antisemitic beliefs, prompting the Nets on Nov. 3 to suspend him indefinitely. He has since apologized, but the fallout continues: On Nov. 4, Nike condemned hate and antisemitism, and suspended its relationship with Irving immediately.
Irving, a seven-time N.B.A. All-Star, has been with the Nets since 2019. He won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, but over the past few years he has often been discussed more for his off-court views. In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, he suggested that the Earth might be flat, and over the past year he had refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Here is what you need to know.
What did Irving post on Twitter?
On Oct. 27, Irving tweeted a link to “Hebrew to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” a 2018 film driven by antisemitic tropes about Jewish people lying about their origins. Among its false and outlandish claims is the assertion that the Holocaust never happened.
Irving also made an Instagram post with a screenshot of the film’s rental page on Amazon, which he had linked to on Twitter. Neither post included a caption or comment from Irving.
The Instagram post was part of a story, a format that expires after 24 hours; the tweet was deleted Oct. 30.
In a letter dated Nov. 4, the Anti-Defamation League and the Nets called on Amazon to take down or add explanatory context to the film and a related book, writing that they were “designed to inflame hatred and, now that it was popularized by Mr. Irving, will lead directly to the harm of Jews.”
When did the backlash start?
On Oct. 28, Rolling Stone magazine reported on some of the film’s antisemitic messages. Many other news media outlets began reporting on the article and Irving’s tweet.
That night, the Nets’ owner Joe Tsai posted about the situation on Twitter, adding that it was “bigger than basketball”:
“I’m disappointed that Kyrie appears to support a film based on a book full of anti-semitic disinformation. I want to sit down and make sure he understands this is hurtful to all of us, and as a man of faith, it is wrong to promote hate based on race, ethnicity or religion.”
On Oct. 29, the N.B.A. released a statement condemning hate speech, but it did not name Irving. On Nov. 1, the N.B.A. players’ union, the National Basketball Players Association, issued a statement condemning antisemitism, but like the N.B.A., it did not name Irving, who is one of the union’s vice presidents.
Antisemitism in America
Antisemitism is one of the longest-standing forms of prejudice, and those who monitor it say it is now on the rise across the country.
How did Irving respond?
Irving addressed his posts publicly for the first time Oct. 29, after the Nets lost to the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center. During a contentious news conference, Irving doubled down on his support of the film and an antigovernment conspiracy theory promoted by the Infowars host Alex Jones.
“History is not supposed to be hidden from anybody,” Irving said. He added: “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in. I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.”
Irving accused an ESPN reporter of trying to “dehumanize” him as he and the reporter argued about whether Irving had “promoted” the film by posting about it.
The Nets played the Pacers again Oct. 31 at Barclays Center and faced the Bulls in Chicago on Nov. 1, but the team did not make Irving available to reporters after either game. General Manager Sean Marks said the team did not “want to cause more fuss right now, more interaction with people.” (The Nets, who have struggled on the court, also fired their head coach, Steve Nash, on Nov. 1, but Marks said the move was not related to Irving’s situation.)
On Nov. 2, Irving announced with the Anti-Defamation League that he would donate $500,000 to anti-hate causes. The Nets said they would do the same.
“I am aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community and I take responsibility,” Irving said in a statement. “I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles.”
Why did the Nets suspend Irving?
By Nov. 3, Irving had not apologized, and he had not been clear about what content he disagreed with in the film. N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said he would meet with Irving soon.
“Kyrie Irving made a reckless decision to post a link to a film containing deeply offensive antisemitic material,” Silver said in a statement. He added: “I am disappointed that he has not offered an unqualified apology and more specifically denounced the vile and harmful content contained in the film he chose to publicize.”
About 30 minutes after Silver’s statement, Irving spoke to reporters at a Nets practice: “I didn’t mean to cause any harm. I’m not the one that made the documentary.”
When asked what specific points in the film he did not agree with, Irving responded vaguely. “Some of the criticism of the Jewish faith and the community, for sure,” he said. “Some points made in there that were unfortunate.”
When Irving was asked if he had any antisemitic beliefs, he said he respected all walks of life. “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” Irving said when he was asked to answer the question with a “yes” or “no.”
Within hours, the Nets suspended him for at least five games, saying he was “unfit to be associated” with the team. “We were dismayed today, when given an opportunity in a media session, that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film. This was not the first time he had the opportunity — but failed — to clarify,” the Nets said in a statement.
“Such failure to disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity to do so is deeply disturbing, is against the values of our organization, and constitutes conduct detrimental to the team.”
Marks, the general manager, said Irving would need to meet with Jewish leaders, go through counseling and meet with the team, among other measures, before he would be allowed to return.
What did Irving say in his apology?
Hours after he was suspended Nov. 3, Irving apologized in an Instagram post, saying he “had no intentions to disrespect any Jewish cultural history regarding the Holocaust or perpetuate any hate.”
“To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize.
I initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled Anti-Semitic, instead of focusing on the healing process of my Jewish Brothers and Sisters that were hurt from the hateful remarks made in the Documentary.”
Why did Nike cut ties with Irving after he apologized?
Irving’s apology seemed to come too late for Nike, which suspended its relationship with him “effective immediately” on Nov. 4 and announced it would not launch his next signature sneaker, the Kyrie 8.
“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism,” the company said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”
Nike had produced Irving’s popular signature sneaker line since 2014; his contract expires in October 2023. One marketing expert said brands have become more conscious about their values in recent years.
Will Irving play for the Nets again?
The Nets said his suspension would last at least five games, meaning he cannot return until at least Nov. 13, when the Nets face the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Marks, the general manager, said Irving’s apology was a “step in the right direction” but “certainly not enough.” It’s not clear if Irving will agree to meet with Jewish leaders or fulfill other mandates from the team. He has not spoken publicly since his apology.
Some fans may not be ready to welcome him back, if that time comes. More than one million Jews live in New York City, and roughly 60 percent are in Brooklyn, where the Nets play at Barclays Center on Atlantic Avenue.
Ben Berke, a Nets fan who lives in Astoria, Queens, told The Times that Irving’s apology was an “improvement.”
“But I don’t want him on the team anymore,” he said.
Marks said Nov. 4 that the Nets had not considered dropping Irving from the team.
Reporting was contributed by Sopan Deb, Tania Ganguli, Julie Creswell, Jordyn Holman, Scott Cacciola, Troy Closson, Karen Weise