Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James says former teammate Kyrie Irving “caused some harm to a lot of people.”
Irving missed the first of several Brooklyn Nets games Friday after he was suspended for comments regarding his tweet linking to an antisemitic documentary.
Speaking to reporters at a post-game press conference after the Lakers lost to the Utah Jazz on Friday, James said: “I believe what Kyrie did caused some harm to a lot of people. He has since, over the last – today, or was it yesterday – he apologized. But he caused some harm.
“It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, how tall you are, what position you’re in – if you are promoting or soliciting, or saying harmful things to any community that harm people, then I don’t respect it. I don’t condone it.”
The Nets suspended Irving Thursday after he initially doubled down on his decision to share the content on his Twitter account. The star point guard issued an apology hours later on his verified Instagram account, in which he said he took full accountability for his action.
“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,” Irving wrote. “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 had no intentions to disrespect any Jewish cultural history regarding the Holocaust or perpetuate any hate. I am learning from this unfortunate event and hope we can find understanding between us all,” Irving continued.
On Friday, criticism of Irving continued to mount with Nike suspending its relationship with the NBA star.
“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism,” Nike said in a statement to CNN. “To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”
The company’s move comes after Irving defended his decision to share a link to the 2018 film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” last week. The movie, based on Ronald Dalton’s book of the same name, has been blasted by civil rights groups for its antisemitism.
Reporters asked Irving earlier Thursday – before he posted his apology – if he holds antisemitic beliefs or if he was sorry. At the time, he replied saying he respects “all walks of life” and that he didn’t mean to cause any harm.
The Nets later said they were “dismayed” when the player “refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film,” during a media session.
“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,” the Nets said in their statement before Irving apologized.
The team also said they made repeated attempts to help Irving “understand the harm and danger of his words and actions.”
Irving’s suspension without pay meant he did not play in Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards. The suspension will last for at least four additional games, and Irving is also required to satisfy “a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct,” the Nets said.
When asked Friday if there was any consideration of releasing Irving, Nets general manager Sean Marks replied, “No. Not at this particular time.”
“There is going to be some remedial steps and measures that have been put in place for him to obviously seek some counseling … from dealing with some anti-hate and some Jewish leaders within our community,” Marks said while speaking to reporters before the Nets-Wizards game.
“He’s going to have to sit down with them, he’s going to have to sit down with the organization after this, and we’ll evaluate and see if this is the right opportunity to bring him back,” Marks added.
Irving’s Nets teammate Kevin Durant described this week’s matters as “unnecessary” and expressed his belief that the team could have “kept quiet” about Irving’s comments.
“I ain’t here to judge nobody or talk down on nobody … I just didn’t like anything that went on. I feel like it was all unnecessary,” Durant said about Irving’s team-issued suspension during the Nets’ pre-game availability on Friday. “I feel like we could have just kept playing basketball and kept quiet as an organization. I just don’t like none of it.”
Asked whether he thought the suspension was unfair, Durant said, “I believe and trust in the organization to do what’s right.”
Shortly after his media availability, Durant tweeted, “Just wanna clarify the statements I made at shootaround, I see some people are confused..I don’t condone hate speech or anti-semitism, I’m about spreading love always.”
“Our game Unites people and I wanna make sure that’s at the forefront,” he added.
Apology comes after swift backlash
Irving’s remarks during the media session with reporters Thursday have escalated the controversy.
When asked if he was apologizing, he said, “I didn’t mean to cause any harm. I’m not the one that made the documentary.”
Asked if he was surprised by the reaction, Irving said, “I take my full responsibility, again I’ll repeat it, for posting something on my Instagram or Twitter that may have had some unfortunate falsehoods in it,” Irving replied.
Asked if he had any antisemitic beliefs, Irving responded: “I respect all walks of life. I embrace all walks of life. That’s where I sit.”
Pressed further to answer yes or no to a question on whether Irving had any antisemitic beliefs, he replied: “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”
When Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, learned of how the NBA star answered that question, he pointed out that Irving has “a lot of work to do.”
“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,” Greenblatt wrote.
After Irving was suspended Thursday, the ADL refused to accept a $500,000 donation that Irving and the Nets had previously announced. The ADL’s decision to decline the donation was before Irving apologized late Thursday.
The star’s comments also garnered reproach from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said he was “disappointed” in Irving.
“Kyrie Irving made a reckless decision to post a link to a film containing deeply offensive antisemitic material,” Silver said in a statement before Irving apologized.
The controversy comes as antisemitism has been on the rise in the US over the past few years. At least 2,717 antisemitic incidents were reported in the US in 2021, an increase from 942 such incidents in 2015, according to the ADL.
Irving has run into controversy in recent years that has affected his playing time. Last season, Irving did not play in many of Brooklyn’s home games because he was not vaccinated against Covid-19, which was a hindrance to playing in indoor arenas due to a New York City workplace vaccine mandate. The rule was later lifted and he returned to Barclays Center in March.