Nets suspend Kyrie Irving over refusal to disavow antisemitism

Brooklyn basketball team says player ‘unfit to be associated’ with it after he declines to apologize for promoting anti-Jewish film; ADL backs removal, rejects promised donation

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving looks out during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in New York. (AP/Jessie Alcheh)
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving looks out during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in New York. (AP/Jessie Alcheh)

NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets suspended starting guard Kyrie Irving for at least five games without pay, the team said Thursday, expressing dismay over his failure to “unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs.”

Hours after Irving refused to issue an apology for posting a link to an antisemitic work on his Twitter feed, sought by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the Nets said that Irving is “currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets.”

“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.

On Wednesday, the player had appeared to reverse course amid an outcry over his since-deleted tweet promoting the film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” releasing a joint statement with the Anti-Defamation League promising $500,000 for anti-hate efforts.

But during a press conference Thursday, he refused to say he should not have posted the link and responded “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” when asked if he had any antisemitic beliefs. The head of the ADL later said the group had decided to reject the donation.

“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. Accordingly, we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets,” the Nets said.

The team said Irving’s suspension would last “until he satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct.”

During his remarks Thursday, Irving said some things in the film were untrue, but he didn’t say he shouldn’t have posted a link to it.

“I’m not the one who made the documentary,” Irving said after the Nets practiced Thursday.

According to Rolling Stone, the film traffics heavily in antisemitic tropes. A synopsis on Amazon says the film “uncovers the true identity of the Children of Israel.”

Silver, who is Jewish, said earlier in the day that Irving “made a reckless decision” by posting the link.

“While we appreciate the fact that he agreed to work with the Brooklyn Nets and the Anti-Defamation League to combat antisemitism and other forms of discrimination, 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,” he said.

In this Oct. 21, 2016, file photo, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to reporters during a news conference, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Silver’s comments were the second statement the league office has issued on the latest Irving controversy and the first in which Irving was referenced by name.

The commissioner added that he will be meeting with Irving in person within the next week. The league’s first statement, clearly in reference to Irving’s tweet, said “hate speech of any kind is unacceptable and runs counter to the NBA’s values of equality, inclusion and respect.”

Irving said Thursday he meant no harm in posting the tweet but didn’t apologize for doing so and instead asked reporters why they weren’t asking questions about the history of Blacks in America, saying 300 million of his ancestors are buried in the country.

“Where were you guys asking those same questions when I was a kid learning about the traumatic events of my familial history and what I’m proud to come from and proud to stand here,” Irving said, “and why when I repeat myself that I’m not going to stand down, it has nothing to do with dismissing any other race or group people.

“I’m just proud of my heritage and what we’ve been through and the fact that this has pinned me against the Jewish community and I’m here answering questions of whether or not I’m sorry or not about something I didn’t create and was something I shared, and I’m telling everybody I’m taking responsibility, then that’s where I sit,” he said.

Fans wearing matching “Fight Antisemitism” shirts watch Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in New York. (AP/Jessie Alcheh)

Asked what in the film he disagreed with, Irving responded: “I think some of the criticism of the Jewish faith and the community for sure. Some points made in there that were unfortunate.”

Irving was also asked specifically about his beliefs regarding the Holocaust.

“Those falsehoods are unfortunate,” Irving said, referring to content in the film. “And it’s not that I don’t believe in the Holocaust. I never said that. Never, ever have said it. It’s not come out of my mouth. I never tweeted it. I never liked anything like it. So the Holocaust in itself is an event that means something to a large group of people that suffered something that could have been avoided.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt reacted to a video of Irving’s comments on Twitter by writing: “The answer to the question ‘Do you have any antisemitic beliefs’ is always “NO” without equivocation.

“We took @KyrieIrving at his word when he said he took responsibility, but today he did not make good on that promise,” Greenblatt added. “Kyrie clearly has a lot of work to do.”

Greenblatt also called the suspension “well-deserved,” and said the ADL would no longer accept Irving’s $500,000 donation.

Irving didn’t say if he had taken part in the meetings between his representatives, the Nets and the ADL. He added that he isn’t afraid to continue speaking about his beliefs.

Silver’s comments and Irving’s reluctance to apologize came hours before the FBI said it had received credible information about a “broad” threat to synagogues in New Jersey, Irving’s home state.

On Twitter, rapper Kanye West, under fire for repeated antisemitic comments, posted several messages in support of Irving, and appeared to criticize Amare Stoudemire, a former player and Nets coach who converted to Judaism.

Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, whose district encompasses northern New Jersey, linked the synagogue threat to comments like those from West and Irving, which have focused a spotlight anti-Jewish hatred in the US.

“This is what happens after years of antisemitic comments from public figures, including, most recently, Kanye West, Kyrie Irving, and others,” he said.

Hoboken Police officers stand watch outside the United Synagogue of Hoboken, in Hoboken, New Jersey, Nov. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Ryan Kryska)

This is the second straight season that the Nets have sent Irving away from the team. Last year it was when he refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, making him ineligible to play home games. They didn’t want him to be a part-time player, though eventually brought him back to play road games in December.

The team refused to give him a contract extension this summer after he was unavailable for so much of last season. Irving opted into the final season of his contract, making it possible he is in the final season with the team.

The guard started his career in 2011 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, owned by Dan Gilbert, who is Jewish, and played for a year and a half under Israeli-American coach David Blatt.

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