The Brooklyn Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving said Saturday he wanted to “apologize deeply” for promoting an antisemitic film on social media, and rejoined his team the following day after being suspended for the incident.
“I’m not antisemitic,” Irving said Saturday, after initially evading a straightforward condemnation of Jew-hatred in an interview earlier this month, which earned him the suspension.
Back at the building for the team’s morning shootaround on Sunday, Irving said he should have handled that interview differently.
“I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or antisemitism or anything that is going against the human race,” Irving said. “I feel like we all should have an opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are assumed about us and I feel it was necessary for me to stand in this place and take accountability for my actions, because there was a way I should have handled all this.
“As I look back and reflect when I had the opportunity to offer my deep regrets to anyone that felt threatened or felt hurt by what I posted, that wasn’t my intent at all,” he said.
Irving has missed eight games during the suspension, which the Nets had said would be for a minimum of five games without pay. The team said he is available to play in its home game Sunday night against Memphis.
Irving said he was initially searching for more information about his heritage when he posted the link to “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” on his Twitter page. The film contains antisemitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial.
When first asked about it, he was defiant about his right to post material that interested him. Then, he refused to apologize or clarify his religious beliefs during another interview a few days later, leading to his suspension.
“I was rightfully defensive that there was an assumption that I could be antisemitic, or that I meant to post a documentary to stand side by side with all the views in the documentary,” Irving said, adding, “How can you call someone an antisemite if you don’t know them?”
But his tone was more reflective while speaking for about 12 minutes Sunday, thanking family and friends for their support. Some, including officials from the National Basketball Players Association and Nets general manager Sean Marks, were in the room as he spoke.
“I meant no harm to any person, to any group of people and yeah, this is a big moment for me because I’m able to learn throughout this process that the power of my voice is very strong, the influence that I have within my community is very strong, and I want to be responsible for that,” Irving said. “In order to do that, you have to admit when you’re wrong and in instances where you hurt people and it impacts them.”
Nike suspended its relationship with Irving and the fallout seemed to further strain the relationship between Irving and the Nets, who declined to give him a contract extension last summer. He missed most of their home games last season when he refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as was mandated at the time in New York City.
The organization said he was “unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets” when it suspended him. But the Nets praised Irving on Sunday for the steps he has since taken.
“Kyrie took ownership of this journey and had conversations with several members of the Jewish community,” the team said in a statement. “We are pleased that he is going about the process in a meaningful way.”
In an exclusive interview with SportsNet New York (SNY) released Saturday, Irving made his most direct public comments regarding the posts he made linking to the film and the uproar they caused since the posting.
“I just really want to focus on the hurt that I caused or the impact that I made within the Jewish community, putting some type of threat, or assumed threat, on the Jewish community,” Irving told SNY.
“I just want to apologize deeply for all my actions for the time that it has been since the post was first put up,” he said.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think, but my focus initially, if I could do it over, would be to heal and repair a lot of my close relationships with my Jewish relatives, brothers and sisters.”
“I just want to apologize deeply for all my actions”
— SNY (@SNYtv) November 19, 2022
Irving claimed he initially felt disrespected by even the question he might be antisemitic and reacted defensively.
“I know I could have handled that better,” Irving said. “I did not mean to send any hurt or threats or impact or harm to the Jewish community.”
“I should have just answered the questions and just moved on,” he said. “To the outside world, it may have been seen as a simple yes or no, which rightfully so it should have been, no I’m not antisemitic.”
“But it wasn’t [clear] in that initial conversation. I take my accountability and I want to apologize for that. Please. It came off the wrong way,” he said.
“I’m not antisemitic. I never have been,” Irving told SNY. “I don’t have hate in my heart for the Jewish people or anyone that identifies as a Jew. I’m not anti-Jewish or any of that.”
“I think the difficult aspect is just processing all this, understanding the power of my voice, the influence I have,” he said.
The Nets, who have gone 5-3 without Irving, insisted Irving have conversations with the Jewish community to better understand the impact of his posts, talks he called “moving” and “impactful.”
“It was a learning journey to be honest with you,” Irving said. “It was a lot of hurt that needed to be healed, a lot of conversations that needed to be had. And a lot of reflection.”
“And I got a chance to do that with some great people from the Jewish community, from the Black community, from the white community — I’ve had so many conversations with all of our races and cultures and religious groups of people,” he said. “I’m a man who stands for peace. I don’t condone any hate speech or any prejudice and I don’t want to be in a position where I’m being misunderstood on where I stand.”
Irving declined to make public the conversation details but said they “made me become more aware of the repair that needed to be done, the healing that needs to be done still.”
“It hasn’t been easy. Some of it has been painful… It has given me a greater perspective,” he said.
After Irving promoted the film, the movie and an accompanying book shot to the top of bestseller lists on Amazon, leading to widespread calls for the platform to stop selling the title.
The controversy surrounding Irving, and incessant antisemitism from hip hop star Kanye West, have contributed to a national conversation about Jew hatred and put US Jews further on edge amid record levels of reported antisemitic incidents.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.