Friday, March 31 2023
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Kelley L Cox / USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James tweeted on Thursday that he thinks Kyrie Irving should be playing for the Brooklyn Nets, not serving a suspension. 

“I told you guys that I don’t believe in sharing hurtful information,” James tweeted. “And I’ll continue to be that way but Kyrie apologized and he should be able to play. That’s what I think. It’s that simple. Help him learn- but he should be playing. What he’s asked to do to get back on the floor I think is excessive IMO. He’s not the person that’s being portrayed of him. Anyways back to my rehab session.”

The Nets suspended Irving last Thursday for a minimum of five games. A week before that, Irving publicized a film full of antisemitic conspiracies, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” on Twitter and Instagram. Irving doubled down in a contentious post-game press conference on Oct. 30, then didn’t speak to the media again until Nov. 3, at which point he tripled down, refusing to apologize for the posts or fully disavow the contents of the film.

Hours after that second press conference, Brooklyn announced the suspension. Here is the full press release:

Over the last several days, we have made repeated attempts to work with Kyrie Irving to help him understand the harm and danger of his words and actions, which began with him publicizing a film containing deeply disturbing antisemitic hate. We believed that taking the path of education in this challenging situation would be the right one and thought that we had made progress with our joint commitment to eradicating hate and intolerance.

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. 

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. We have decided that Kyrie will serve a suspension without pay until he satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct and the suspension period served is no less than five games.

Hours later, Irving posted an apology on Instagram. Here it is in full:

While doing research on YHWH, I posted a Documentary that contained some false anti-Semitic statements, narratives, and language that were untrue and offensive to the Jewish Race/Religion, and I take full accountability and responsibility for my actions. I am grateful to have a big platform to share knowledge and I want to move forward by having an open dialogue to learn more and grow from this.

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. I want to clarify any confusion on where I stand fighting against [antisemitism] by apologizing for posting the documentary without context and a factual explanation outlining the specific beliefs in the Documentary I agreed with and disagreed with. I had no intentions to disrespect any Jewish cultural history regarding the Holocaust or perpetuate any hate. I am learning from this unfortunate event and hope we can find understanding between us all. I am no different than any other human being. I am a seeker of truth and knowledge, and I know who I Am.

The following morning, Nets general manager Sean Marks told reporters in D.C. that the post was “a step in the right direction” toward returning to the team, but “certainly not enough.” Marks added that there had not been enough dialogue between Irving and the team throughout the antisemitism scandal and that the length of the suspension would ultimately be up to Irving. 

On Wednesday, Marks said that he had not talked to Irving personally since the suspension, only “his representatives,” and has “nothing to share” about the situation. (ESPN reported last Friday that Irving had ghosted owner Joe Tsai and was only communicating with the team through his stepmother/agent throughout the scandal.) 

The return-to-play requirements outlined by the Nets, as reported by ESPN, The Athletic and Yahoo Sports, are:

  • Meet with the media and clearly state that the film is harmful and untrue and he is sorry for sharing it
  • Complete sensitivity training on the dangers of hate speech
  • Complete sensitivity training specifically about antisemitism
  • Meet with the Anti-Defamation League and leaders from the Jewish community in Brooklyn
  • Donate $500,000 to organizations that combat hate
  • After completing the above steps, meet with Nets owner Joe Tsai to demonstrate that he understands the situation and will not do anything similar this season

James believes that this is asking too much of Irving, and that the Instagram apology Irving issued after the suspension should suffice. This is also the view of the National Basketball Players Association, according to NBPA vice president Jaylen Brown. Irving is also an NBPA vice president.

The announcement of the suspension — and the conditions under which it will end — came several days after Marks and NBA commissioner Adam Silver would have preferred, per ESPN. Ironically, Tsai’s reported rationale for not suspending him sooner is the same as James’ rationale for ending it now: Both wanted the team to help Irving learn, rather than punish him. And the team’s stated rationale for the terms of the suspension is straightforward: For a week after posting the film, he did not demonstrate that he was committed to educating himself about antisemitism or interested in condemning the film. 

In other words, Brooklyn’s position is that Irving had multiple chances to show that he did not deserve to be suspended, and he did not take advantage of them. As a result, for Irving to show that he is fit to be associated with the team, the bar is higher.

Last Friday, in a post-game press conference, James said his stance was “simple,” but didn’t offer an opinion on the length or terms of the suspension. 

“Me personally, I don’t condone any hate to any kind, to any race, to Jewish communities, to Black communities, to Asian communities,” James said then, adding that this is why “The Shop,” his HBO talk show, did not air an episode featuring Kanye West’s hate speech. “I don’t represent that. There’s no place in this world for it. Nobody can benefit from that. And I believe what Kyrie did caused some harm to a lot of people.”

James continued: “He apologized. But he caused some harm, and I think it’s unfortunate. But I don’t stand on the position to harm people when it comes to your voice or your platform or anything. So it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, how tall you are, what position you’re in, if you are promoting or soliciting or saying harmful things to any community that harm people, then I don’t respect that. I don’t condone it.”

If Irving completes the steps outlined by the team, he could in theory be back on the court as soon as Sunday against James’ Los Angeles Lakers



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