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Saturday, November 19, 2022

Kyrie Irving's Reported Imminent Return Raises Questions

It has been widely reported that Kyrie Irving will be permitted to return to action for the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, when the Nets face the Memphis Grizzlies. If that is true, the NBA's indefinite suspension of Irving for promoting a film that is filled with antisemitic lies will have lasted eight games, during which the Nets went 5-3 after starting the season with a 2-6 record (the Nets also replaced Coach Steve Nash with Jacque Vaughn prior to the last game Irving played before his suspension began).

I typically refrain from commenting on "news" that has been reported but not yet happened, but I am making an exception in this instance because the following commentary is relevant regardless of whether or not Irving's suspension is lifted on Sunday.

LeBron James and Jaylen Brown have both publicly spoken out against the nature and duration of Kyrie Irving's suspension. Brown is one of the NBA Players Association's Vice Presidents (as is Irving). It is not surprising that Brown is concerned about Irving's suspension; I doubt that Irving is the only NBA player who holds reprehensible views--it would be surprising if Stephen Jackson is the only current or former NBA player who supports notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan--and there must be some concern among the players that if their "thought bubbles" become spoken words then they could be suspended like Irving (or, for lesser players, simply disappear from the league, a la Meyers Leonard, who has yet to play in the NBA after being suspended by the league for one week for publicly uttering an antisemitic slur).

James has no official position in the NBA Players Association, but he is the self-appointed voice of the players in terms of (selectively) speaking out on various issues; James said a lot about Robert Sarver, but said very little about the NBA's commercial relationships with China's repressive dictatorship. James' uninformed, hypocritical takes on various issues have been publicly called out by, among others, Enes Kanter Freedom.

There are many reporters whose careers have been made in no small part by following James around from Cleveland to Miami to Cleveland to L.A. while extolling his greatness in exchange for being granted a limited degree of insider access. It would be great if just one of those reporters asked James the following question:

"You have been critical of Kyrie Irving's suspension. If an NBA player used his social media platform to promote a film that declares that the trans-Atlantic slave trade never happened, that Black people are responsible for the suffering of white people, and that many prominent Black people worship Satan, what would you suggest the appropriate suspension or disciplinary action would be?"

That would also be a great question to ask each member of the NBAPA's Executive Committee:

President C.J. McCollum

First Vice President Andre Iguodala

Secretary/Treasurer Harrison Barnes

Vice President Bismack Biyombo

Vice President Malcolm Brogdon

Vice President Jaylen Brown

Vice President Kyrie Irving

Vice President Garrett Temple

Vice President Grant Williams

It would also be interesting to hear from each team's player representative. NBA players have insisted that they should have a public voice about social issues, and that they should never be told to just "shut up and dribble." Having a public voice about social issues is not a part-time job; anyone who is asking to be granted such a platform and the privilege of receiving widespread dissemination of his views has a responsibility to then speak out about any social issue relevant to the NBA--and it is difficult to imagine a more relevant social issue to the NBA than a player (let alone an NBAPA Vice President) not only supporting hate speech on social media but then doubling down on that support until after the NBA suspended him. 

Irving did not issue a clear, unequivocal public statement that he rejects antisemitism until earlier today, on the eve of the presumptive termination of his suspension: "I 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. I just want to apologize deeply for all my actions throughout the time that it's been since the post was first put up. 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." In that interview with Ian Begley, Irving also declared that he is "not antisemitic." It is significant that Irving has yet to unequivocally repudiate the fundamental (and false) premise of the antisemitic film that he promoted: that Black people are the true Jews, and that the people who call themselves Jews today have stolen that identity from the original, true Black Jews. It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Irving has failed to disassociate himself from the notion that Jews are not authentically Jewish.

It remains to be seen if Irving truly understands the power that he wields as a famous athlete who has over 20 million social media followers, and it remains to be seen if he will be more responsible with his words and deeds in the future. It also remains to be seen how the NBA and the NBA's players react if a person associated with the league uses social media to promote hatred of an ethnic group other than the Jewish people.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:03 PM



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