By MARK LORENZANA
The relationship between NBA superstar guard Kyrie Irving and sports-equipment giant Nike “is likely over,” according to Nike co-founder Phil Knight in an interview with U.S. cable news channel CNBC on Thursday, Nov. 10.
Irving has been under fire recently for tweeting, on Oct. 29, a link to an anti-Semitic film, and refusing to apologize immediately after. Nike had announced on Friday, Nov. 4, that it had suspended its relationship with the Brooklyn Nets guard in a move to distance itself from Irving, after he was suspended by his team on Thursday, Nov. 3, “for being slow to disavow anti-Semitism.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver likewise slammed, at first, Irving’s action in sharing the anti-Semitic documentary on his Twitter account and, subsequently, his inaction — in Irving’s refusal to immediately apologize following his tweet.
“Kyrie Irving made a reckless decision to post a link to a film containing deeply offensive anti-Semitic material,” Silver said. “I am disappointed that he has not offered an unqualified apology and more specifically denounced the vile and harmful content contained in the film he chose to publicize. I will be meeting with Kyrie in person in the next week to discuss this situation.”
Irving eventually apologized, but by then it was too late: He was already suspended by the Brooklyn Nets for at least five games — without pay — and his reinstatement will depend on the NBA guard fulfilling several conditions laid down by his team.
“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,” wrote Irving on his official Instagram account. “I initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled Anti-Semitic, instead of focusing on the healing process of my Jewish Brothers and Sisters that were hurt from the hateful remarks made in the Documentary. I want to clarify any confusion on where I stand fighting against Anti- semticism by apologizing for posting the documentary without context and a factual explanation outlining the specific beliefs in the Documentary I agreed with and disagreed with.”
For Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks, however, the apology was a little too late — and not enough.
“The conditions needed for Irving’s reinstatement includes a public statement recognizing the film is anti-Semitic, an apology for supporting the film and the falsehoods within it and training sessions on the dangers of hate speech. There would also need to be meetings with Brooklyn Jewish leaders,” Marks told sportswriters.
Aside from his tweet, Irving also shared an Instagram post with a screenshot of the film’s page on Amazon. Neither post on Twitter or Instagram contained a caption or a comment from the Brooklyn Nets guard.
The film in question, titled “Hebrews to Negroes,” is filled with anti-Semitic tropes, according to a Rolling Stone report. The film is directed by Ronald Dalton Jr., and is based upon his 2015 book of the same name. A description for the film states that it “uncovers the true identity of the Children of Israel,” while a similar one for the book reads, “Since the European and Arab slave traders stepped foot into Africa, blacks have been told lies about their heritage.” Both blurbs suggest that “Hebrews to Negroes” espouse ideas in line with more extreme factions of the Black Hebrew Israelites, which have a long history of misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and especially anti-Semitism.
Irving’s actions have been criticized by anti-hate groups, chief among them the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose CEO Jonathan Greenblatt refused to accept a donation of $500,000 to the ADL by Irving.
“We were optimistic, but after watching the debacle of a press conference (where Irving initially refused to apologize), it’s clear that Kyrie feels no accountability for his actions,” Greenblatt tweeted. “@ADL cannot in good conscience accept his donation.”
For his part, Nike co-founder Knight has no regrets in severing ties with Irving, who signed a contract with the Oregon-based outfit in 2011, an annual endorsement deal believed to have paid the NBA player upwards of $11 million a year.
“Kyrie stepped over the line,” Knight said. “It’s kind of that simple. He made some statements that we just can’t abide by, and that’s why we ended the relationship. And I was fine with that.”
On Monday, Nov. 7, Nike e-mailed shoe retailers, asking them to remove the unreleased Nike Kyrie 8 model sneakers from their store shelves. Irving has been wearing his latest signature shoes since the start of this current NBA season.