NBA

Kyrie Irving is not antisemitic, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says

Silver met with Irving earlier this week after the NBA star promoted an antisemitic film on Twitter.

John Minchillo
Kyrie Irving was suspended at least five games by the Nets after promoting an antisemitic film on Twitter.


WASHINGTON — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that he didn’t believe Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving was antisemitic after meeting with him in person this week at the league’s headquarters in New York. Irving has been facing backlash for promoting an antisemitic film on Twitter last month.

“We had a direct and candid conversation,” Silver, who is Jewish, said in an interview with The New York Times, adding, “He’s someone I’ve known for a decade, and I’ve never heard an antisemitic word from him or, frankly, hate directed at any group.”

In a follow-up phone conversation, Silver added, “Whether or not he is antisemitic is not relevant to the damage caused by the posting of hateful content.”

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Silver declined to elaborate on his meeting with Irving, citing an agreement with him to keep the details of their conversation private. Silver talked to the Times after he spoke at Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers Conference in Washington, his first public appearance amid the firestorm since Irving tweeted an Amazon link for an antisemitic film.

Silver suggested to conference attendees, in response to being asked about Irving, that Amazon bore some responsibility for hosting the film on its platform.

“I think Amazon has to make decisions as well,” Silver said. He added, “My first instinct wasn’t that something, to me, that is so frankly vile and full of hate speech would be contained within Amazon Prime.”

Silver told the audience that the social media post had done “enormous damage” to Irving and “potentially” to the team and the league. He added that he had “no doubt” that Irving was not antisemitic.

In an Oct. 27 post on Twitter, Irving linked to an Amazon rental and purchase webpage for the 2018 film “Hebrew to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which is rife with antisemitic tropes and based on a book by the same name. Irving removed the post three days later. He has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization that fights antisemitism; fellow NBA players; fans; local politicians; Nets owner Joe Tsai; and Silver, among others. For a week after his post, Irving did not apologize and would not say that he did not have antisemitic beliefs, prompting the Nets to suspend him indefinitely, for at least five games. Irving could be eligible to return Sunday for the Nets’ road game against the Los Angeles Lakers. On Thursday, more than 200 entertainment figures, including actors Mila Kunis and Debra Messing, signed an open letter to Amazon urging it to remove the film and the book it is based on from the platform.

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The NBA and the Nets faced criticism because Irving was not suspended by the team until Nov. 3, a week after his original post.

“I feel that we got to the right outcome here in terms of his suspension,” Silver said. “And in retrospect, we may have been able to get there faster. I accept that criticism. But I felt it was important to understand the context in which it was posted to understand what discipline was appropriate, not in any way to excuse it but to understand what discipline was appropriate.”

Silver said that for the league office, the film “required us to do a bit of work and research to understand” what Irving had posted. Silver also said that he had watched the film, which is about 3 1/2 hours.

“Once we did that investigation, it was clear to me that this was indeed hate speech and we, together with the Brooklyn Nets, did respond,” Silver said.

The Nets, Silver said, will decide when Irving can return to the team “in consultation with the league.” The Nets have shared some of the conditions for Irving’s return, including that he must meet with local Jewish leaders and with the team. Although Irving apologized publicly in an Instagram post after he was suspended, it’s unclear if he will meet the team’s conditions. Irving and the Nets announced in a statement with the ADL last week that they would each donate $500,000 to anti-hate causes.

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Asked if he was comfortable with the Nets’ terms, Silver said, “That is being discussed at this time.”
He added: “I think that what I understand where things stand is the Nets are looking to make this into a partnership between them and Kyrie as to what remediation is appropriate. Because what is most important here is that the remorse be truly authentic and genuine. And I think that will best come by conditions that are agreed to upon as opposed to imposed on him.”

But some people have said that the Nets’ terms are too onerous. Lakers forward LeBron James, who played with Irving in Cleveland, said in a Twitter post Thursday that Irving should be back on the court.

“I told you guys that I don’t believe in sharing hurtful information,” James said in his tweet, referring to his comment to reporters last week that Irving’s post had been harmful. “And I’ll continue to be that way, but Kyrie apologized and he should be able to play.”

He continued: “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.”

James said that was just his opinion and added of Irving, “He’s not the person that’s being portrayed of him.”

Silver said “no” when asked if he had a response to James’ post and began discussing Irving’s right under the league’s collective bargaining agreement to be represented by the NBA players union, where Irving serves as a vice president. Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, another vice president of the union’s executive committee, told the Boston Globe in an interview earlier this week that he expected the union to appeal the suspension.

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“That’s something we’re going to have to sort through,” Silver said. “But at this point, we are working cooperatively with Kyrie and his representatives trying to come up with a plan for remedial action.”

Irving’s social media post also cost him at least one sponsor: Sports giant Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after years of making signature shoes with Irving’s name on them.

Phil Knight, a Nike co-founder, told CNBC on Thursday that Irving had “stepped over the line” and that he doubted the company would ever work with Irving again.

“He made some statements that we just can’t abide by, and that’s why we ended the relationship,” Knight said. “And I was fine with that.”

Brown, who was also Irving’s teammate on the Celtics, posted on Twitter in response, “Since when did Nike care about ethics?”

Silver said to the crowd at the conference that the delay in a more forceful response to Irving was a result of wanting to be thorough.

“It doesn’t mean that if he said, ‘I’m sorry,’ that would’ve been the end of it,” Silver said. “It sure would’ve made a big difference, I think, to millions of people. But it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have still been accountable for it. But I think that’s what we look for in the league. True accountability, and that people from the outside, from player — wherever they are on that roster — to coach, management, all the way up to the owner, and the league office, that we are held accountable for our actions. That’s what you want to see as a fan.”

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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