Is it just me, or is it kind of wild that Kyrie Irving didn’t even get a game reprieve for tweeting out a movie featuring antisemitic cliches, and then doubling down on it, before eventually deleting it? The same week that Kanye West got himself canceled for offering up some Nazi shit, the NBA’s biggest misunderstood genius/narcissist, who’s been a problem child for years, promoted content in a similar vein to an overlapping audience.
Separating an artist from their work — and I’d classify Irving as more of an artist than a basketball player* at this point — is really hard to do, especially when people laud a skill set as transcendent. I saw that “Great Balls of Fire” songster Jerry Lee Lewis died over the weekend, and the news drop gave his work as much run as the fact that one of his seven wives was his 13-year-old cousin. Lewis is the most recent example to come to mind, but how about R Kelly, Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, Kobe Bryant, etc.?
(*We’ve seen considerably more highlights of his handles than his teams actually winning games the past five years.)
Irving being allowed to slide with just a “talking to” shows an inability by the Brooklyn Nets — and the NBA — to read the room. Deadspin staff writer Eric Blum has been doing great work covering the litany of antisemitism that’s leeched into the sports world the past few weeks, including a large projection co-signing with Kanye on TIAA Bank Field after the Georgia-Florida game Saturday. Even though the mercurial Brooklyn hooper didn’t quite go full Ye like Marcus Stroman, he is the next most visible name to continue a dangerous trend of hate speech toward Jewish people.
Letting Kyrie off easy allows the conversation to still revolve around basketball. This is not the time to lament about how big of a disaster the Nets have been with Kevin Durant and Kyrie. I listened to a podcast Monday featuring two guys I respected, who’ve been vocal about racism, and they opted not to touch on the content and why it was wrong to share. Rather they discussed the leadership aspect in the locker room, with one vehemently saying that he doesn’t believe Irving is a bad person. To which all I can reply is, what about the Nets’ guard over the past year or so has given you a reason to give him the benefit of the doubt?
This is/was an opportunity for the Association, which loves to tout its record on activism, to further establish itself as the progressive league. Fans sat courtside wearing “Fight antisemitism” shirts at Barclays Center on Monday, yet Brooklyn didn’t make Irving available to the media after the game. This looks like selective outrage, similar to when protestors wore “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts to the same arena in 2019, and the team and league tried to downplay it.
At the time, Nets owner Joseph Tsai said the Western media doesn’t understand how third-rail the issue of democracy in Hong Kong is among the Chinese community, and he’s showing a similar tepid grasp of how hot-button antisemitism is among a city and community that’s home to a massive amount of Jewish people. While Tsai and the NBA denounced Irving’s tweet, this was an opportunity to do more and encourage education.
It seems unfair that the league and organization would make an example out of Kyrie, but he’s failed to understand the concept of accountability, and this isn’t a vaccine issue that’s subject to change by the whims of a municipality. Adam Silver or Tsai could come out and drop the hammer under the guise of the ethos of the league.
As long as Irving is on the court, and wowing hoops heads with sleight of hand, it’s impossible to take the proper amount of time to focus and have meaningful discourse about how scary it is that he contributed to spreading hurtful tropes that not only still persist but are being normalized by influential figures.
After the Nets’ win over the Pacers on Monday, now former-Brooklyn coach Steve Nash spoke about how the organization can evolve from this.
“I just hope that we all go through this together. There’s always an opportunity for us to grow and understand new perspectives. I think the organization is trying to take that stance where we can communicate through this. And try to all come out in a better position and both more understanding and more empathy for every side of this debate and situation.”
There aren’t two sides to the antisemitism debate, and Irving is not deserving of understanding or empathy after showing zero remorse, and he needs a substantial timeout. The Nets improved to 2-5 on the season though, with a large boost from their All-Star guard’s 28, 6, and 6.