WASHINGTON — Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who was suspended indefinitely in the fallout of his social media posts promoting an antisemitic film, will have to meet with Jewish leaders and with the team before he can return to play, General Manager Sean Marks said Friday.
The comments came a day after the team announced it had suspended Irving without pay for at least five games because he “refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material” in the film he posted about last week.
“There is going to be some remedial steps and measures that have been put in place for him to, obviously, seek some counseling designated by the team,” Marks said, adding, “We’ll evaluate and see if this is the right opportunity to bring him back.”
On Friday, Nike, which has produced Irving’s popular signature shoe since 2014, announced that it had suspended its relationship with him “effective immediately” and would not launch the next version of his shoe, the Kyrie 8.
“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech, and we condemn any form of antisemitism,” the company said in a statement, adding, “We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”
Last week, Irving posted a link on Twitter to an antisemitic film and posted a screenshot of the movie’s online rental page on Instagram. As fans, team leaders and even N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver called for Irving to apologize, Irving resisted until after he was suspended Thursday.
“I think we started this off by trying to work through an education piece to this and educate all parties involved,” Marks said. “That obviously did not work.”
Hours after the team announced his suspension, Irving apologized in a late-night post on Instagram, saying, “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.”
Marks addressed reporters at a morning shootaround Friday before a game against the Washington Wizards during a tumultuous week. The Nets are one of the worst teams in the N.B.A., with a record of 3-6, and they fired their coach, Steve Nash, on Tuesday.
Antisemitism in America
Antisemitism is one of the longest-standing forms of prejudice, and those who monitor it say it is now on the rise across the country.
Marks said Irving’s apology was a “step in the right direction” but “certainly not enough.”
He added that he had not spoken to Irving since he apologized and that the Nets had not considered releasing him. As to whether Irving had shown any willingness to fulfill the team’s mandates for his return, Marks said, “I think we’re going to give him some time, and it’s up to him.”
He continued: “His actions will speak louder than words. And if he wants to participate in that, we’ll see where it all goes.”
Nets forward Kevin Durant, the team’s best player, also addressed reporters Friday but did not criticize Irving. Durant and Irving, who are friends, both joined the Nets in 2019.
“I ain’t here to judge nobody or talk down on the life or how they feel, their views or anything,” Durant said. “I just didn’t like anything that went on. I felt like it was all unnecessary. I felt like we could have just kept playing basketball and kept quiet as an organization. I just don’t like none of it.”
Asked if he thought Irving’s suspension was unfair, Durant said, “I believe and trust in the organization to do what’s right.”
“Just wanna clarify the statements I made at shootaround, I see some people are confused,” Durant said. “I don’t condone hate speech or anti-semetism, I’m about spreading love always. Our game Unites people and I wanna make sure that’s at the forefront.”
The backlash against the 30-year-old Irving began last week, when he posted a link on Twitter to the 2018 film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which promotes several antisemitic tropes. On Saturday, after a loss to the Indiana Pacers, Irving reiterated his support for the film and for an antigovernment conspiracy theory promoted by the Infowars host Alex Jones.
The Nets owner Joe Tsai and Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, were among those who had criticized Irving for the post. Silver, the commissioner, called Irving’s post “reckless” and said that he would meet with Irving soon. But even after Irving announced with the A.D.L. on Wednesday that he would donate $500,000 to anti-hate causes, he spoke to reporters and declined to apologize. He acknowledged that there were some things in the film he did not agree with, although he did not specify what they were.
“Some of the criticism of the Jewish faith and the community, for sure,” Irving said Thursday. “Some points made in there that were unfortunate.”
That was around noon. Over the next 12 hours, the Nets suspended him, saying he was “unfit to be associated” with the team, and Greenblatt said the A.D.L. could not “in good conscience” accept his donation. (The donation announcement had not said that Irving’s funds, or an equal amount from the Nets, would go to the A.D.L. A Nets spokesperson said later that the team and the A.D.L. would work together to decide where the donations would go.)
Representative Yvette Clarke, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn, said in a Twitter post that Irving’s suspension was “long overdue” and that antisemitism “has no place in Brooklyn or anywhere else.”
In response to Irving’s apology, Greenblatt tweeted Friday morning: “Actions speak louder than words. Because of his post and previous refusals to walk it back, the #antisemitic film/book is now a best seller in multiple categories on @amazon. There is a lot more to do to undo this damage.”
On Friday afternoon, the film was ranked No. 1 among documentaries on Amazon, and a complementary book with the same name was top-ranked in the Christian education category.
Irving said in his apology that he “initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled Anti-Semitic, instead of focusing on the healing process of my Jewish Brothers and Sisters.”
Some fans have said they would no longer support the Nets because of Irving, though others had mixed feelings. And Nike’s decision to cut ties with him could have a ripple effect in basketball: Irving’s shoes are popular among players at colleges and in the N.B.A. and the W.N.B.A. Sue Bird, who retired from the Seattle Storm in September, played in custom versions of Irving’s sneakers that read “Keep Sue Fresh.” Many players at Duke University, which Irving attended, have worn his shoes.
Most N.B.A. players have agreements with shoe companies that provide them money and shoes, but few have signature sneakers branded with their names — just 20 to 30 each season. Nike, for instance, makes lines of shoes named for Durant, LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, among others. The contracts between players and Nike usually remain private, however, judging by details known about other shoe deals, Nike likely pays Irving several million dollars per year.
Nike has been the official provider of N.B.A. uniforms and apparel since the 2017-18 season.
The drama around Irving’s posts and now his absence have added to the woes of a reeling Nets team that entered the season less than three weeks ago with championship aspirations. On Friday, Durant spoke about the role the news media has played in Irving’s situation.
“This is the way of the N.B.A. now,” Durant said. “So many outlets now, and their stories hit pretty fast now. So that’s where all the chaos is coming from — everybody’s opinions. Everybody has an opinion on the situation, and we’re hearing it nonstop.
“But once the ball starts bouncing and we get into practice, none of that stuff really seeps into the gym. So that’s the cool part about being in the league.”
Irving will be out at least until Nov. 13, when the Nets will be in Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. This will put much of the team’s offensive burden on the 34-year-old Durant. Ben Simmons, who starts at guard alongside Irving, has been injured for the past two games and is expected to miss at least two more games with left knee soreness.
The Nets also have not announced a permanent head coach to replace Nash; the assistant coach Jacque Vaughn has been filling in since Nash was fired Tuesday.
Tania Ganguli contributed reporting from New York, and Kevin Draper from New Orleans.