On Oct. 27, divisive NBA all-star Kyrie Irving posted a link to a film on Amazon Prime titled “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America.” This seemingly innocuous tweet became the talk of the basketball world for a week, resulting in Irving’s most serious controversy yet.
The film is based on a book of the same title and features no shortage of anti-Semitic sentiments, including a conspiracy theory that there exists a global Jewish network actively seeking to oppress black people.
Immediately following the post, Irving received backlash from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a non-governmental organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism, as well as Joe Tsai, the owner of the Nets, Kyrie’s home franchise.
“I’m disappointed that Kyrie appears to support a film based on a book full of anti-Semitic disinformation,” Tsai said in a tweet Oct. 28. “I want to sit down [with him] and make sure he understands this is hurtful to all of us.”
Irving posted a tweet responding to the backlash, stating, “I am an OMNIST, and I meant no disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs. The ‘Anti-Semitic’ label that is being pushed on me is not justified.”
This non-apology did not land well. In a now-infamous postgame press conference following a 125-116 loss to the Pacers, including 35 points scored by Irving, not one question was about basketball.
The presser was tense, as Irving was obviously frustrated at the reporters’ questions. In particular, Irving took issue with ESPN’s Nick Friedell, who sharply questioned his understanding of the film’s antisemitic leanings.
“Did I do anything illegal? Am I going out and saying that I hate one specific group of people?” Irving said. “I’m not going to stand down on anything that I believe in.”
It wasn’t all backlash for Irving, though. Notorious musician Kanye West, entangled in an antisemitic scandal of his own, posted a photo of Irving on Instagram with the caption, “There’s some real ones still here.”
Unfortunately for Kyrie, this was about the extent of his support. Two days later, a group of protestors wore “Fight Antisemitism” shirts courtside at the second of two Nets-Pacers games that week.
Andrew Pearl, a member of the protesting group, said that Kyrie was “laughing sarcastically and basically said ‘I appreciate you guys for coming out, you guys really showed up in numbers.’”
Kyrie then released a joint statement with the Nets organization and the ADL, stating, “I am aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community and I take responsibility,” and offered to donate $500,000 to the ADL, who would then forward it to “causes and organizations working towards eradicating hate and intolerance.”
In response, the ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt issued a statement accepting Kyrie’s apology but declining to accept any funds from the Nets star, saying, “Although we will not accept any funds from him if Kyrie is open to direct dialogue to repair the harm that he has caused…the ADL is open to engaging with him.”
At this point, Kyrie had still yet to expressly condemn antisemitism. In a press conference early on Nov. 3, five days after the link was posted and two days after offering a public apology, Irving still could not explicitly denounce antisemitism, even when prompted by a reporter, stating, “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”
At this point, the NBA – owned by Adam Silver, a Jewish man himself – had enough. At 7:45 p.m. Nov. 3, the NBA suspended Irving for a minimum of five games.
In order for the star point guard to be reinstated, he must issue a verbal apology and condemn the film, share that apology on social media, complete sensitivity training, meet with Jewish leaders in the Brooklyn community and with Nets owner Joe Tsai and make a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes.
Star shooting guard Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, in conjunction with the NBPA (the Player’s Association of the NBA), expressed discomfort with these conditions, stating, “The terms for his return, they seem like a lot, and a lot of the players expressed discomfort with the terms.”
After years of pushing, Kyrie Irving finally found the NBA’s breaking point. What comes next is a mystery to everybody – many have speculated that the mercurial Irving will bow out of sports completely. Whatever happens with Kyrie, the NBA has made one thing resoundingly clear – there are real consequences for hate speech espoused by their players, regardless of their status.