Kyrie Irving loses Nike contract over anti-Semitism scandal
The laces have come undone.
After the Brooklyn Nets suspended their star point guard Kyrie Irving for a minimum of five games without pay, the seven-time star player received more disturbing news on Friday. Nike had decided to bench her relationship with the controversial athlete. Additionally, they canceled the launch of its signature Kyrie 8 shoe, a long-time in-development product that was slated to launch this month.
The sneaker giant released a statement that read, “We believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn all forms of anti-Semitism. To that end, we have made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving with immediate effect and to no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.
The controversy began last week when Irving posted a link to a antisemitic propaganda film which reiterates the talking points of the Black Hebrew Israelites, which is listed as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Group members were responsible for 2019 kosher supermarket shooting in Jersey City, New Jersey that killed three people. Both the film and the book it is based on recycle many historical untruths and Jewish conspiracy theories, some dating back to long-debunked anti-Semitic fiction The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as fake Adolf Hitler quotes. He also denies the gravity of the Holocaust.
Irving deleted the initial tweet, but remained extremely suspicious to apologize in several interviews, to win reproaches other big names in basketball Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Millerand Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Former Nets coach Amar’e Stoudemire (who happens to be Jewish) said he understood that Irving is curious and seeks out new sources of information, but added, “once you start spreading information that isn’t true, now that creates a problem.” Charles Barkley urged NBA commissioner Adam Silver to take action.
Although Irving and the Nets organization have pledged to donate $500,000 each to “causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities”, the athlete’s dithering and refusal outright renouncing anti-Semitism in follow-up interviews ultimately led the Nets to declare him “unfit to be associated” with the team on Thursday.
Then Irving uploaded a black square image to Instagram and included a lengthy caption that said, in part, that he took “full responsibility and liability for my actions.” He wrote: “To all Jewish families and communities who are hurt and affected by my message, I am deeply sorry for causing you pain and I apologize.
He added that he “initially reacted out of emotion after being unfairly labeled an anti-Semite” and apologized “for posting the documentary without context”.
It clearly wasn’t enough for Nike, and no doubt having a recently restored provocateur on Twitter like Kanye West exacerbating the situation didn’t help anyone. (The disgraced rapper went after Shaquille O’Neal after denouncing Irving, and encountered a verbal version of Shaq Attack.)
Either way, Nike may have been looking for an excuse to cut ties with their difficult partner. In 2021he called a first look at some new Irving brand shoes and called them “trash” on social media.
A April 2021 Report said Irving’s deal with Nike had earned him $11 million the previous year and called his shoes the second most popular among other NBA players.
This is far from Kyrie Irving’s first battle with controversy. His refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, putting himself and his NBA associates at risk, earned him the dubious honor to become Senator Ted Cruz’s new favorite player. Much less harmful, although certainly puzzling, was the moment in 2017 when the athlete confirmed that he believed the earth was flat.