Editor’s note: The Brooklyn Nets suspended Kyrie Irving on Thursday evening for at least five games.
It would be unfathomable for the Brooklyn Nets to operate as they have in recent days if it were not so fitting a sign of the times — forge ahead in the name of victory, morality and consequences be damned.
Not two days removed from a weekend in which Nets superstar Kyrie Irving spent his postgame news conference defending his right to spread anti-Semitism and misinformation on social media, the franchise signaled its intention to hire suspended Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, who is just six weeks removed from the completion of an investigation into his alleged sexual improprieties with a subordinate.
Let that sink in for a moment. In a week’s time, the Nets have, at the very least, emboldened anyone willing to excuse hate in the name of free speech or sexual misconduct in the name of masculinity. At worst, the Nets actively promoted anti-Semitism and predatory behavior. All for the chance that Irving and Udoka help them win more basketball games than they might have without either, and even that is no guarantee.
Don’t believe me? Go look at the number of people who are defending Udoka’s actions as “consensual” in the absence of context. Initial reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania framed “the improper workplace relationship” as consensual but have since been replaced with allegations that Udoka made “unwanted comments” and “used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate.”
It may have been difficult for the Celtics to construct a legal argument for firing Udoka with cause, but they felt strongly enough about his multiple violations of team policy that they suspended the coach who just led them to the NBA Finals for at least this season, leaving open-ended any decision about his coaching future.
And not two months later, the Nets are essentially saying, “Give us that guy.”
Imagine how the woman on the other end of these allegations feels if the Nets so swiftly empower a man who abused his power. Imagine how female employees across the NBA feel about a team hiring him as he is actively suspended for that abuse of power. Imagine how women everywhere feel about any of it.
Udoka’s coaching success is grounded in his ability to hold players accountable, only Brooklyn is holding him to a different standard. His players will receive that message. So, too, will anyone wanting to normalize Udoka’s conduct. Read the comments on any criticism of this hire, and you will find the same divisiveness that clouds everything else that should be universally condemned enough for us to accept its inevitability.
What is right no longer matters, supplanted instead by whatever serves one’s own agenda.
Same goes for Irving. Last week, he shared to his 4.6 million Twitter followers a film, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which is crawling with antisemitism, including outright holocaust denial and others baseless material from Adolf Hitler“The Hidden Tyranny” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Irving’s promotion of the purported documentary drew widespread condemnation, most notably from Nets owner Joe Tsai, whose public statement read, “I’m disappointed that Kyrie appears to support a film based on a book full of antisemitic disinformation. I want to sit down and make sure he understands this is hurtful to all of us, and as a man of faith, it is wrong to promote hate based on race, ethnicity or religion.”
The NBA and its players’ association, of which Irving is a vice president, also issued statements that respectively read, “Hate speech of any kind is unacceptable,” and, “Anti-Semitism has no place in our society,” although both fell short of citing the Nets point guard as the reason for those denouncements.
Except, when Irving was asked by reporters after Saturday’s loss about his intentions behind platforming anti-Semitism, he doubled down, describing the contents of the film as “the truth of our world,” claiming he was the one being dehumanized in all of this and declaring , “I don’t have to understand anything from you.”
“Did I do anything illegal? Did I hurt anybody?” he asked, adding, “I’m not going to stand down on anything that I believe in. I’m only going to get stronger, because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.”
Here, again, Irving conflated legality with principle. His actions did hurt people, and his refusal to denounce anti-Semitism in all forms — free of immediate repercussions from the Nets — legitimized hateful beliefs among those who hold them. And, again, go read responses to anyone taking Irving to task, and you will find yourself in a rabbit hole of rhetoric that muddies the water just enough to keep us from wading in.
Make no mistake: That is what Irving is trying to do here, too.
In Wednesday’s joint statement with the Nets and the Anti-Defamation League, in which all three entities each pledged to donate $500,000 to unidentified charities “that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities,” Irving appeared to deliberately avoid issuing an apology or condemning antisemitism.
“I am aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community and I take responsibility,” he said. “I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles.”
The qualifiers in Irving’s statement are open to interpretation. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who is Jewish, made his clear in a statement on Thursday morning: “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.”
However you interpret Irving’s words, he and the Nets surely hoped their donations would make us forget. Not so easy when you have laid bare your priorities, putting ambition before the devastation it may cause.
Moments after Silver outlined plans to meet with Irving next week, the seven-time All-Star met with media after the Nets had shielded him from reporters for their last two games, including one in which a number of attendees were sitting courtside at Barclays Center in shirts that avowed, “Fight anti-Semitism.”
When given multiple chances, Irving repeatedly refused to directly apologize or condemn anti-Semitism. Irving would go no further than acknowledging that he platformed a film “that may have had some unfortunate falsehoods in it.” At least he acknowledged the Holocaust occurred. However, in a diatribe littered with more deflection, hypocrisy and qualifiers, he wanted us to know he sees value in the film.
“I’m just here to continue to expose things that our world continues to put in darkness,” he said.
In response, Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt on Thursday night “in good conscience” rejected Irving’s $500,000 donation “after watching the debacle of a press conference.”
Meanwhile, the Nets allowed Irving to play for them and espouse his vagaries in the NBA’s biggest media market, home to the world’s largest Jewish population in a single city. We arrived at a place in Brooklyn where Irving left blatant anti-Semitism open to interpretation, and the furthest the Nets went was to “want to sit down and make sure he understands this is hurtful to all of us,” a notion he had rejected already.
Finally, after a week’s time, after Irving’s two written statements and two news conferences, none of which met the gravity of the situation with any grace, after the basketball world and beyond saw how far an NBA franchise could bend to a superstar before it broke , the Nets suspended him for “no less than five games.”
“Such failure to disavow anti-Semitism when given a clear opportunity to do so is deeply disturbing, is against the values of our organization, and constitutes conduct detrimental to the team,” the Nets said, five days after Irving initially refused to cede ground. “Accordingly, we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets. We have decided that Kyrie will serve a suspension without pay until he satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct. ”
As if five games will heal the harm Irving’s actions have caused. As if 10 days is enough to reverse, at best, his willful ignorance to anti-Semitism. As if any apology at this point can be made with a degree of sincerity.
How did we get here? By failing to hold the influential to account, like the Nets, who were apparently willing to excuse workplace misconduct and hate speech if those propagating both helped win basketball games.
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