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SILVER WILL LOSE ALL CREDIBILITY IF NBA LETS A HATING KYRIE SLIDE
Irving “complied” much too late with the commissioner’s urge that he apologize for supporting an antisemitic film — and the Nets’ ban of “at least” five games without pay isn’t nearly punitive enough
In a country where every day creeps closer to a civil war, or at least a more dangerous social divide, Adam Silver is being watched closely. If he acts responsibly as NBA commissioner, he’ll reprimand Kyrie Irving for his antisemitic tweet and original refusal to apologize, defying Silver’s stated urge that he do so. The league has run off a White owner, Donald Sterling, who made racist comments. The league has run off a White player, Meyers Leonard, who used an anti-Jewish slur while live-streaming a video game.
The league should run off Irving, as well, right over the edge of a planet that he insists is flat.
But Silver, who oversees a successful enterprise in which 74 percent of players are Black, has yet to ban Irving for an appropriate span beyond the too-soft suspension of the Brooklyn Nets — an entire season, at least. He’s concerned, if not afraid, that harsh action will prompt an outcry among fellow Black players throughout the league. Closer to the truth, he suspects Kevin Durant, who has blindly supported Irving through his many missteps with the Nets, might lead an uprising within a chaotic franchise already ripped apart by Irving’s frequent disruptions, the firing of coach Steve Nash and the imminent hiring of Ime Udoka, who was suspended an entire season by the Boston Celtics for conducting an inappropriate office relationship with a subordinate. All of which could lead numerous NBA players to rebel in racial lockstep, with the Nets’ ban of Irving for “at least” five games without pay not nearly punitive enough Thursday night. If the Nets think he’s “currently unfit to be associated” with the franchise for his “failure to disavow antisemitism,” why issue such a wishy-washy punishment? The commissioner must step up and stop the folly.
This is Silver’s most difficult challenge atop the association. He has encouraged players to speak their minds and embrace empowerment for years. Now, his reckless wokeness is backfiring in the form of Irving’s hate speech, which personally offends a commissioner of Jewish faith and team owners who are Jewish. Suddenly, he is faced with a no-win conundrum — and let’s hope he appropriately ignores Irving’s belated and disingenuous apology, if you call it that, in which he wrote late Thursday night, “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.” Silver can vomit if he likes. It came much too late and should be disregarded.
He works for the owners, as all commissioners do, but he can push them to do what’s right. Does Silver protect the league’s $10-billion-a-year business, as negotiations for long-term TV deals with ESPN and Warner Bros./Discovery Sports (TNT) heat up? Does he have his mandated meeting with Irving within the next week and ban him for the season? Does he penalize the Nets for their weak response to the national outcry over his promotion of a documentary with antisemitic themes — “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” — and hammer the team and Irving for a quick-trigger coverup attempt that included a pair of patronizing $500,000 donations to anti-hate organizations?
“Kyrie Irving made a reckless decision to post a link to a film containing deeply offensive antisemitic material," Silver said Thursday morning in a statement. “While we appreciate the fact that he agreed to work with the Brooklyn Nets and the Anti-Defamation League to combat antisemitism and other forms of discrimination, 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.”
Or, will Silver not do right by previous hate-speech punishments — Sterling was pressured to sell the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014; Leonard, only 30 and still vaguely valuable as a 7-1 center, no longer is in the league after the Miami Heat sat him and traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who waived him last year. If the commissioner allows Irving to keep playing as a favor to the Nets — whose owner, Joe Tsai, has allowed the inmates to run his asylum for two years, including his failure to punish Irving last weekend beyond a verbal rebuke — Silver will be exposed as the ultimate power-role hypocrite. Here is where he reminds entitled a-holes who’s in charge and who plays their exorbitant salaries.
He should be more motivated to discipline Irving after his latest defiant response to authority, which came shortly after Silver’s statement was released. In his first public comments after refusing to back off his toxic tweet, Irving took “responsibility” for the social media post but fell short of issuing the apology that Silver and the Nets wanted.
“I didn't mean to cause any harm. I’m not the one that made the documentary,” Irving said in a six-minute-plus defense plea that had to be cut off by a Nets media-relations employee. "Where were you guys asking those same questions when I was a kid learning about the traumatic events of my familial history and what I'm proud to come from, and proud to stand here and why when I repeat myself that I'm not going to stand down, it has nothing to do with dismissing any other race or group people.
“I’m just proud of my heritage and what we've been through and the fact that this has pinned me against the Jewish community and I'm here answering questions of whether or not I'm sorry or not about something I didn't create and was something I shared, and I'm telling everybody I'm taking responsibility, then that's where I sit.”
Silver must be incensed. Irving is toying with him. Even the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League was disturbed by Irving’s refusal to answer no when asked, point blank, if he is antisemitic. “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” said Kyrie, tapping into his belief that he is a Black Hebrew Israelite.
Tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt, who rejected Irving’s donation as a fraud: “The answer to the question ‘Do you have any antisemitic beliefs’ is always ‘NO’ without equivocation. We took @KyrieIrving at his word when he said he took responsibility, but today he did not make good on that promise. Kyrie clearly has a lot of work to do.”
It could be a case of Irving being incapable of articulating his beliefs and venturing into flagrant territory beyond his intellectual means. If so, he’s responsible for self-muzzling and realizing his ignorance is breaking the Nets and bringing considerable harm to the league. Asked specifically about the Holocaust, Irving said of tropes in the film: “Those falsehoods are unfortunate. And it's not that I don't believe in the Holocaust. I never said that. Never, ever have said it. It's not come out of my mouth. I never tweeted it. I never liked anything like it. So the Holocaust in itself is an event that means something to a large group of people that suffered something that could have been avoided.”
Why not simply deny he is anti-Jew? He is incapable. “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,” Irving responded. “But this is not going to turn into a spin-around cycle — questions upon questions. I respect all walks of life and embrace all walks of life. That's where I sit.” The Nets should have banned him for the season, then and there, yet their brief suspension falls short of their strong rebuke: “We were dismayed today, when given an opportunity in a media session, that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film. This was not the first time he had the opportunity — but failed — to clarify. Such failure to disavow antisemitism 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. 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 and the suspension period served is no less than five games.” Good luck with that. Paging Adam Silver.
While the influential likes of LeBron James and Steph Curry were quick to wield power amid the toxic blunders of Sterling and Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, who also was pressured into selling his team, we’re hearing nothing but crickets from active players about Irving. They are hypocrites, too, turning the fight into players vs. owners when everyone should be united in condemning hate speech. Former players have been robust in their Irving opposition, primarily Reggie Miller and Shaquille O’Neal from their TNT analyst seats. They have nothing to lose in the political game.
“In years past, this league has been great because the players have led the way and they have strong voices,” Miller said. “When Donald Sterling stepped in it, when Robert Sarver just recently stepped in it, our voices in the basketball community and our players were vocally strong in some type of discipline being handed down — or be gone. The players have dropped the ball on this case when it’s been one of their own. It’s been crickets. And it’s disappointing, because this league has been built on the shoulders of the players being advocates. Right is right and wrong is wrong.
“And if you’re gonna call out owners, and rightfully so, then you’ve got to call out players as well. You can’t go silent in terms of this for Kyrie Irving. I want to hear the players and their strong opinions as well, just as we heard about Robert Sarver and Donald Sterling.”
Said O’Neal: “You have to be aware of what you are doing. You have to be conscious and I can tell (Irving) is not conscious — he doesn't really care what's going on. But us, I know the game we love and used to promote, it brings people together. It hurts me sometimes when we have to sit up here and talk about stuff that divides the game. We have got to answer for what this idiot has done. I stand for equality of all people, I've always been like that. It doesn't matter, your religion or where you're from. That's how I was raised. I don't want to sit up here and answer questions for what he's done. It's my job to make people happy. I can't answer for what he's doing — it is obvious by his answers that he doesn't really care.”
So the lines have been drawn. All eyes are on Adam Silver. He can try to finesse his way out of a social mess, mumble something diplomatic about his meeting with the hater, but he will have lost respect and credibility.
There is only one response at this point, after the Nets’ social airball.
Ban Kyrie Irving for weeks, months, longer.
Or he will continue to own a sickening narrative.
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.