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IF YOU'RE BUYING HIS APOLOGIES, THEN YOU DON’T KNOW KYRIE IRVING
In an orchestrated farce, the NBA and the Nets protected Irving — they should have canceled him as an antisemitic supporter — and welcomed him back days after saying his "vile" tweet made him “unfit"
The only option is to turn away, wear blinders, stop caring. Otherwise, the psychosis of Kyrie Irving will remain the most exasperating experience in sports. Don’t waste your lungs booing him. Don’t use brain cells trying to understand him. Don’t theorize whether he has been socially rehabilitated in a farcical, two-week lab experiment.
And please, above all approaches, don’t let him bamboozle you the way he has bamboozled the NBA commissioner, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets and all others trying to save a career not worth saving. Only days after dismissing Irving as a hopelessly wicked antisemite — his latest episode in a six-year trample of cancerous behavior that disrupted three franchises — the Nets are all but nominating him for a Nobel Peace Prize now. They’re actually accepting his apologetic pile of b.s. as sincere progress that could turn around his life, change his world purview and, hey, maybe even revive the fortunes of the team he has sabotaged.
Do we scream? Do we laugh? Do we cry?
Or do we disgustedly swallow the down-and-dirty of what’s happening here? Had Irving been canceled for a hate-speech violation, all hell might have broken loose in a predominantly Black league influenced by the likes of LeBron James. A key labor deadline — a mutual opt-out in the collective bargaining agreement — arrives Dec. 15, this as commissioner Adam Silver eyes lucrative, long-term renewals with his media partners. The NBA didn’t want troubled waters in the National Basketball Players Association, which Irving happens to serve as a vice president on the executive committee. So Silver caved to the larger power dynamic, joining Nets owner Joe Tsai in allowing a hateful person to skate, giving Irving a life raft when he should have been left to drown in the East River.
This was an orchestrated debacle. Buy into it at your own risk.
“I’m not antisemitic. I never have been,” Kyrie said in a sit-down interview with SNY, which is not the Nets’ local broadcast outlet. “I don't have hate in my heart for the Jewish people or anyone that identifies as a Jew. I'm not anti-Jewish or any of that. And it's been difficult to sit at home with my family with them seeing all of this and having questions.
“The part that hasn't been hard is explaining myself because I know who I am, I know what I represent. I think the difficult aspect is just processing all this, understanding the power of my voice, the influence I have. I am no one's idol, but I am a human being that wants to make impact and change. In order to do that I have to live responsibly and set a greater example for our youth. For my generation and the older generation.”
Then came a media gathering Sunday, when he returned to the Nets after an eight-game suspension — amid more cheers than boos in a barely caring Barclays Center, all of which is troubling — and contributed 14 points (and zero assists) in 26 minutes in a 127-115 win over Memphis. When Irving drilled an early three-pointer, his teammates danced on the sideline and fans roared. In the moment, his hate tweet was forgotten, replaced by the temporary, fool’s-gold hope that he can join Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons in a belated rush to Eastern Conference glory. But in the bigger picture, thoughtful people never will forgive him for diving into the gutter.
“I just want to offer my deep apologies to all those who are impacted over these last few weeks. Specifically my Jewish relatives. My Black relatives. You know, all races and cultures,” Irving told reporters. “Feel like we all felt the impact. And I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or antisemitism or anything that is anti going against the human race. I feel like we all should have an opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are assumed about us. And I feel it was necessary for me to stand in this place and take accountability for my actions because there was a way I should have handled all of this.
“I meant no harm to any person, any group of people. And yeah, this is a big moment for me because I'm able to learn throughout this process that the power of my voice is very strong. The influence that I have within my community is very strong. And I want to be responsible for that. In order to do that, we have to admit when you were wrong and instances where you hurt people and it impacts them.”
Wait, wasn’t it only late last month when Irving was combative in a news conference, defending his right to promote a movie containing antisemitic tropes and propaganda about the Holocaust? “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,” he said that night, when he urged a reporter to “change your life, bro.” Suddenly, after a rushed apology tour and a few assumed conversations with Jewish leaders, Kyrie Irving is a new man? That’s what the league establishment wants us to believe, insulting as it is to our collective intelligence.
“Kyrie took ownership of his journey and had conversations with several members of the Jewish community,” the Nets said in a statement approved, if not written, by Tsai. “We are pleased that he is going about the process in a meaningful way.”
To be clear, Irving only has taken ownership inside the wayward minds of Tsai and Silver. In a league that quickly removed Donald Sterling, an owner, for racist comments, a problematic superstar is treated much differently — a special case who can be instantly healed. Initially, Silver couldn’t have been more harsh in condemning Irving for tweet-promoting the “vile and harmful” content of “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America!” In suspending Irving on Nov. 3, the Nets denounced him for “the harmful impact of his conduct” and said he was “unfit to be associated” with the team, this after Tsai tweeted, “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. This is bigger than basketball.” Since then, Irving has charmed them to the point of professional embarrassment, if only because they wanted to be charmed.
There he was Sunday night, back in uniform, back with the team he wrecked last season with his anti-vaccine crusade, back with the gullible organization he’d infected the previous season by periodically blowing off games for no good reason. Outside the arena, dozens of purple-shirted members of a categorized hate group — Black Hebrew Israelites — were chanting and distributing flyers to fans. The topics: “The Truth About Anti-Semitism” and “The Truth About Slavery.” The protests have just begun.
One plausible explanation for the flip-flop, from the Nets’ perspective, is that Tsai and general manager Sean Marks see trade value in Irving. Though no team of sane mind should want any part of him, the Lakers are fairly insane these days, with LeBron James more interested in Leonardo DiCaprio’s 48th birthday party than a 4-10 mess at Crypto.com Arena — truly their Crypt. LeBron also qualifies as a Kyrie Enabler, and if he wants a desperate front office to deal Russell Westbrook and/or one of two remaining first-round picks this decade for Irving’s expiring contract, owner Jeanie Buss just might say yes.
Thus, the Nets shamelessly give him yet another chance, which surely will result in his next colossal screw-up. All they’re doing is resetting the clock, rebooting the Kyrie hard drive. They easily could eat the $30 million for his one remaining season and send him away, but Tsai never has concealed his fanboy-like enthusiasm for Irving’s basketball skills. That’s why the owner and his wife met with Irving and his family, when they could have kicked him to the curb without another thought. Tsai and Silver basically coerced Irving to apologize on multiple occasions. The end result is what they wanted, scripted and phony and preposterous as it all seems.
“I was rightfully defensive that there was an assumption that I could be antisemitic,” Irving said, “or that I meant to post the documentary to stand side by side with all the views of the documentary. How can you call somebody an antisemite when you don't know them? How can you call their family out on things that we don't have a track record of? I have no track record of anything like that. So for me to react that way, it was human. And I had to give myself some grace and give myself some time, to go back home and reflect.”
Why should we believe him? Isn’t his mea culpa about lost paychecks and beating the system, not a deeper understanding of the Jewish faith?
“It was a learning journey to be honest with you. It was a lot of hurt that needed to be healed, a lot of conversations that needed to be had. And a lot of reflection. And I got a chance to do that with some great people from the Jewish community. From the Black community, from the white community — I've had so many conversations with all of our races and cultures and religious groups of people. Just try to find a better perspective on how we live a more harmonious life. I’m a man who stands for peace. I don't condone any hate speech or any prejudice and I don't want to be in a position where I'm being misunderstood on where I stand in terms of antisemitism or any hate for that matter for anybody in this world.”
Misunderstood? The statute of limitations on Kyrie being misunderstood kicked in long ago. It’s mind-boggling how he’s able to slide. Hasn’t Meyers Leonard, still serviceable as a veteran big man, been effectively canceled in the league after shouting a Jewish slur during a Twitch gaming session? Why isn’t Silver trying to save him? Because no one cares about Leonard, a White journeyman. Irving’s suspension triggered anger, most notably from his former Boston teammate, Jaylen Brown, who railed on Tsai, along with Nike for severing its relationship with Irving. Isn’t there a double-standard, Brown wondered, when Tsai’s tech company, Alibaba, has been blacklisted by the U.S. government for funding racial profiling in China? When Nike chairman Phil Knight has been crucified for using sweatshops?
“(Tsai’s) response was alarming to me.” Brown said last week. “He said that (Irving) had more work to do. And our society has more work to do, including Joe Tsai. It’s 2022. It takes 10 minutes of time to see who these business owners, corporations etc., who they’re associated with and who they’re doing business with, who they’re affiliated with. I’m vice president of the union, and it’s part of my job to protect our players legally. And to see Phil Knight first come out and condemn Kyrie, and also see Joe Tsai say he has more work to do, I think it’s time for a larger conversation.”
Adam Silver didn’t want to have that conversation. Tsai is too important to the league’s relationship with China, worth billions. Rather than banish Irving as a hater, it was easier to wash him off, make him apologize and point him back to the basketball court. “Over the past several weeks, he has been on a journey of reflection, learning and open dialogue," the union weighed in Sunday. “Through meetings and conversations with leaders from the Jewish community as well as other thought leaders, he's developed a deeper understanding and has grown personally from this experience.”
That laughter you hear? It’s Kyrie Irving, getting away with establishment murder again, soon to plot his next prank against a world he doesn’t like, and a world that never will like him back.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.