Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

What Kyrie Irving and the rest of the NBA should have done over the course of seven ugly days finally happened late Thursday in the wake of star player’s brutal and unacceptable refusal to say “no” when asked if he was antisemitic.

Since last week, it was hemming and hawing and mealy-mouthed cowardice from nearly everyone grappling with Kyrie’s promotion of an antisemitic documentary. Then, all at once yesterday, it seemed, there was a suspension, condemnation, and, at last, an apology.

It started early Thursday when Kyrie’s refusal to say he’s not antisemitic led someone — belatedly, but finally — to act. Credit to the Brooklyn Nets for suspending their star player for “no less than five games.”

The Nets statement had the kind of unequivocal, Kyrie-is-wrong clarity that had been missing over the past week: ” … we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets.”

Then several hours later, deep into Thursday night, Kyrie released a statement on social media, finally apologizing, writing, “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.”

Whether or not that apology is enough, or sincere, will be determined in the coming days, though sources around the NBA believe he will play again given his latest statement.

The lead up to the suspension, rebuke and eventual apology had featured the Nets star promoting a clearly antisemitic video on his social media accounts, refusing to take that post down for days, declining to condemn its hate-filled drivel Saturday night, and then, in a showcase for how not to act in the face of one’s own awful mistakes, a brutal and hard-to-watch media scrum Thursday in which Kyrie would not say that he’s not antisemitic. 

It had been long past time for someone in the league to lead.

The suspension is just, and more — perhaps much more — time away from the game could have followed if Kyrie hadn’t apologized. What happens next remains unclear, but this doesn’t. There should be no more of the two-sides-ism that the Nets tried to foist off before Thursday’s suspension. This was an antisemitic documentary that, among other things, uses a fraudulent Adolf Hitler quote and trope-filled conspiracy theory to demonize Jewish people.

The Nets move was also a much-needed improvement on the NBA league office’s much-too-late decision Thursday to release a mealy mouthed statement from commissioner Adam Silver, before Kyrie spoke, in which Silver said he’s “disappointed” in Kyrie. 

It’s all the more important because Kyrie is a vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, which may be why that organization only sent out some generic antisemitism-is-bad press release over the weekend without mentioning the obvious: That the need for the statement was a direct result of Kyrie’s actions.

So many responses before Thursday’s suspension were designed to avoid forcefully addressing what Kyrie did, and has done since — it felt like so many cowards flailing at what to do when the answer was obvious: Hold Kyrie Irving accountable. 

That shortcoming, that failure from the league, the NBPA, the Nets and Kyrie’s teammates, was brought into stark relief Thursday by Kyrie’s own words, especially the ones he wouldn’t say. They avoided condemning his words, and he, in repayment, bristled at the idea that anyone else should deign to do the same.

“Kyrie,” a reporter asked earlier in the day, “for the record, do you have any antisemitic beliefs?” 

The correct answer here, by the way, is “no.”

Kyrie said this instead: “Again, I’m going to repeat: I don’t know how the label becomes justified because you guys ask me the same questions over and over again. But this is not going to turn into a spin around cycle, questions upon questions. I told you guys how I felt. I respect all walks of life and embrace all walks of life. That’s where I sit.”

He was given another chance — he’s had many over the past week — to answer “yes” or “no” to a question about whether or not he’s a bigot, whether or not antisemitism is OK, whether or not bigotry is universally wrong.

A reporter tried again: “On that question, yes or no?”

“I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” Kyrie said.

“What does that mean?” the reporter asked.

“I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”

There’s much to parse here, including the ugly sensation that Kyrie’s response, “I cannot be antisemetic if I know where I come from,” is a not-so-subtle endorsement of one of the messages the antisemitic film he put out there, the one that fake-quoted Hitler, was pushing: That the Jewish people aren’t the Jewish people, a trope as old and hate-filled as antisemitism itself. 

This is heady, difficult, important stuff. This kind of bigotry matters, especially from someone with the influence and impact Kyrie commands. Look no further than Twitter mentions from those swayed by his thinking to see the consequences of such talk.

In that labyrinth of difficult truths, there are some absolutes. That antisemitism is wrong. That bigotry does not justify more bigotry. That past work on behalf of real social justice does not justify promoting hatred. And that, asked if one holds antisemitic views, a refusal to say “no” says something very much indeed. That Kyrie’s suspension was right and necessary.

Shame on Kyrie, yes, of course. But shame on the NBA, on the Players Association, and on the Nets for taking so long to take action.

Silence has power, too. And Kyrie’s refusal to say the right thing until faced with real consequences from his team is exactly him saying the wrong thing — as was everyone else’s lukewarm messaging. 

One example of the attempts to gloss over and pay away the truth behind Kyrie’s action was the announcement earlier in the day, before he spoke, that the player would donate $500,000, on top of the same amount from the Nets, for groups that work to end hate. 

That announcement came in unison with Anti-Defamation League, and even then it felt like an attempt by Kyrie to write a check his heart had no interest in cashing. The ADL seemed to agree after hearing Kyrie speak. A few hours later, they announced they would not be accepting the money from a man who, as ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said, “feels no accountability for his actions.”

Good. We live in a time where hate has an even firmer hold than before, and when those that spread it have real power in its growth.

The Nets stepped in, and Kyrie apologized. Here’s hoping the NBPA, other players, everyone with a voice in this league will lend theirs to saying that Kyrie’s stance over the last week was wrong, hate is wrong, and the content is dangerous and bigoted and not OK. Credit to Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal for doing just that with their platform the other night. Hopefully more will follow their lead.

There now remains the question of what happens next — when, exactly, Kyrie will play again. And the answer should be a simple one, enforced by a league that has rightly made social justice a part of its brand and ethos: Once it seems Kyrie’s apology is sincere, a benefit of the doubt he may not deserve but should be extended nonetheless. People can make mistakes, and the test of whether Kyrie believes he did — if his apology was a real one — will be come in the days ahead when he answers questions on this topic again.

Forgiveness and second chances matter. But so does not allowing people to promote hate and then refuse to say such hate — such bigotry — is wrong. Kyrie Irving has taken the right step, with a statement that apologies. But statements can be written by others.

This can’t be the last word from Kyrie after all that’s happened. Here’s hoping his regret is as genuine now as his hurtfulness was over the past week.





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