On Thursday, Nov. 3, the Brooklyn Nets suspended their star guard Kyrie Irving for refusing to apologize for peddling a film full of dangerous antisemitic tropes to his 4.6 million Twitter followers. The suspension was just the latest turn in a saga that began on Oct. 27.

In between sharing the video and being suspended, Irving first defended himself, then pledged $500,000 to combat hate and issued a statement that acknowledged the “the negative impact of his post.” Then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who is Jewish, weighed in and condemned Irving for failing to apologize. In what appeared to be the final straw for the Nets, during an interview Irving refused to apologize for his action nor did he denounce the film.


He’s now suspended for at least five games without pay.

However, just hours after the announcement of the suspension, Irving posted a message on his Instagram account, where he conceded that the film "contained some false anti-Semitic statements, narratives, and languages that were untrue and offensive to the Jewish Race/Religion." While he went on to directly apologize to "All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post," he indicated that there were parts of the documentary film with which he still agrees. 

Here’s a breakdown of what we know happened, why it’s dangerous, and how the NBA, the Nets, and Irving responded.

What happened?

In September, Irving tweeted a video by far-right conspiracy theorist and provocateur Alex Jones. In the video, Jones claims secret societies or “occults” are in control of America, which Irving said he believes to be true. He clarified that he does not believe Jones’ false claims that the murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was staged, for which Jones now must pay $1 billion in damages.

It was a month later when, on Oct. 27, Irving shared the cover art of a book titled “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” and a link to a 2018 film by the same name. The film purports to uncover the biblical identity of Black people, or true identity of the Children of Israel, which Islam, Judaism, and Christianity have allegedly covered up for centuries.

That so-called cover-up is just one of the antisemitic conspiracy theories featured in the book and film and reminded many in the Jewish community of rapper and fashion mogul Kanye West’s antisemitic claim weeks earlier. The book also calls the six million Jews who were murdered by Nazis during the Holocaust one of the “five major falsehoods.”

Unpacking the antisemitism

Secret societies are often a dog whistle for the antisemitic trope of Jewish control. Jones’ claims that they rule the world behind the scenes draw from longstanding conspiracies and accusations that Jews are part of a secret cabal that controls the global world order. Read more about this antisemitic trope of Jewish control in AJC’s Translate Hate glossary of antisemitic terms.

Meanwhile, the book and film spotlighted by Irving echoed a long-standing antisemitic trope common among Black supremacists that claims “white” Jews are “not the real Jews.”  Instead, these Black supremacists allege without evidence that Jews are imposters who have stolen the identity and “birthright” of Black people as the true chosen people of God.

According to this conspiracy theory, the descendants of the twelve Hebrew tribes of Israel settled across Africa after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel and were eventually sold into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade.

Elements of Black supremacy can be found within Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam and factions of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. The latter inspired a violent rampage at a Jersey City, New Jersey, kosher supermarket in 2019 that took three lives. Read more about the antisemitic trope of “not the real Jews in AJC’s Translate Hate glossary of antisemitic terms.

Furthermore, regarding the book’s labeling of the Holocaust as one of the five major falsehoods, denying the systematic destruction and genocide of the Jewish people or denying the scope of the brutalities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust is antisemitic. Read more about the antisemitic trope of Holocaust denial in AJC’s Translate Hate glossary of antisemitic terms.

What did Kyrie Irving say when first confronted?

Initially, Irving showed no remorse, even after a group of fans sat courtside at the Barclays Center at the Nets’ Oct. 31 game against the Indiana Pacers wearing purple shirts emblazoned with the words: “Fight Antisemitism.”

“In terms of the backlash, we’re in 2022, history is not supposed to be hidden from anybody and I’m not a divisive person when it comes to religion, I embrace all walks of life,” he said. “So, the claims of antisemitism and who are the original chosen people of God and we go into these religious conversations and it’s a big no, no, I don’t live my life that way.”

Irving has since taken down the tweet in which he promoted the film. But in answer to reporters questions on Thursday, he doubled down: “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”

Herein lies the Catch-22 for Jews. If they point something out as antisemitic and try to explain why it's offensive, conspiracy theorists will simply see it as proof that Jews are trying to silence their critics. If Jews turn the other way and let the prejudice go unchecked, it festers and spreads -- especially on social media.

How did the NBA and the Nets Respond to Irving?

Nets owner Joe Tsai initially tweeted: “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,” adding “This is bigger than basketball.”

The Nets’ Head Coach Steve Nash, who has since been let go by the team (though it is unclear what impact, if any, his handling of this situation had on that decision), appeared to give legitimacy to Irving’s actions by terming the situation a debate and calling for empathy for “every side.”

“There’s always an opportunity for us to grow and understand new perspectives,” he said.  “I think the organization is trying to take that stance where we can communicate through this. And try to all come out in a better position and both more understanding and more empathy for every side of this debate and situation.”  

Nevertheless, on Nov. 2, Irving along with the Brooklyn Nets and the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement recognizing the “negative impact of my post.” Irving and the Nets pledged $500,000 toward “causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities.” The statement did not include an apology.

That absence of an apology did not impress NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who said on Thursday he would be meeting with Irving himself next week.

AJC tweeted in response to the NBA’s statement “While we're glad the NBA Commissioner will be meeting with Kyrie next week to discuss his actions, Kyrie's latest comments show that, for him, a week is too long at this point. Kyrie needs to understand that hate is hate, no matter how you package it.”

AJC CEO Ted Deutch added, “After his non-apology yesterday, Kyrie had the chance to clear the air with a simple yes or no question: “do you have any antisemitic beliefs?” Kyrie refused to say no. This is an incredibly telling statement, and it's incredibly disappointing.”

Just hours after Irving’s Thursday refusal to answer whether he had any antisemitic beliefs, the Brooklyn Nets suspended their star player for at least five games. “This was not the first time he had the opportunity - but failed - to clarify,” read a statement from the team. “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. 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 and the suspension period served is no less than five games.”

Prominent voices in the sports world spoke out

Prior to the announcement by the Nets on Nov. 3, prominent voices in the sports world spoke out:

Former NBA star Amar'e Stoudemire, who is Jewish, demanded an apology: "You have to give an apology because if you’re going to promote a documentary that has false allegations inside of it, and you may not understand that these allegations that’s inside the documentary are false, okay, you made a mistake, right? So, apologize for it."

Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal: "The game we used to love, and we promote it brings people together. And it hurts me sometimes when we have to sit up here to talk about stuff that divides the game. Now we got to answer for what this idiot has done. I stand for equality of all people. I’ve always been like that. It don’t matter what religion. No matter where you’re from. … I don’t really want to sit up here and answer questions for what he’s done. If you’re looking at me, it’s my job to make people happy. I can’t speak for him or answer for what he’s doing. It’s obvious by his answers he doesn’t really care."

NBA analyst and Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley: “I think he [Irving] should have been suspended,” he said, adding what he believes Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner who is Jewish, should say to Irving whose base salary this year is $36 million. “’You’re going to insult me, you have the right, but I have the right to say no. You’re not going to take my $40 million and insult my religion.’ I think the NBA, they have made a mistake.”

Former Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller: In a conversation with play-by-play broadcaster Brian Anderson and sideline reporter Jared Greenberg, Miller questioned why none of Irving’s peers has condemned the player’s actions. He commended players who raised their voices when private recordings of racist comments by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling became public. Sterling was fined $2.5 million and banned from the NBA for life.

“In years past, this league has been great because the players have led the way and they have strong voices. When Donald Sterling 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.”

Prominent sportscaster Rich Eisen: In response to Irving’s retort that persistent questions from ESPN’s Nick Friedell were “dehumanizing” the basketball player.

“You’re dehumanizing me, Kyrie. I’m a Jewish man, descendant of people who died in gas chambers and got incinerated by Nazis. You’re dehumanizing me by putting on your platform a book and movie that is filled with antisemitic tropes that are designed or eventually lead to the dehumanization of me, and my children, and my ancestors who died because they were Jewish.”



Back to Top