Former NBA stars Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal and Charles Barkley on Tuesday ripped Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving, who last week shared a tweet promoting a movie widely viewed as antisemitic, branding him an “idiot”.
Speaking on TNT’s “Inside the NBA”, the two former players also criticized the NBA’s handling of the situation and said they believed Irving should have been reprimanded and even suspended.
“I think the NBA dropped the ball. I think he should have been suspended. I think [NBA commissioner] Adam [Silver] should have suspended him. You can’t take my $40 million and insult my religion. The NBA, they made a mistake,” Barkley said, pointing out recent examples in which the NBA suspended players for using homophobic slurs.
“We have suspended and fined people who have made homophobic slurs. I think if you insult the Black community you should be suspended or fined,” said Barkley, before adding, “I can’t believe we’re talking about this idiot.”
O’Neal said he knew he had to be “very responsible” with what he shared on social media, and added it is obvious that Irving does not care.
“When you’re as great at basketball as he is, people listen to you… It hurts me that we have to sit up here and talk about stuff that divides us,” O’Neal said. “We have to sit up here and answer for what this idiot has done. I stand for equality of all people.”
Irving last Thursday shared a link to a documentary called "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America," based on a book of the same name by Ronald Dalton Jr. Both the book and movie have been criticized for their antisemitic message.
After an uproar, he later deleted the controversial tweet but not before he defended his right to share it, getting into a heated exchange with ESPN reporter Nick Friedell following Brooklyn’s loss to Indiana on Saturday night.
Irving, who was named the Rookie of the Year after being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, is talented but is known for some controversies over the years.
In February 2017, Irving stated in an interview that he believes that the Earth is flat. He later was less forceful in advancing this belief, encouraging people to "do their own research" into the topic
In September 2017, Irving denied these claims and said that media misunderstood him as he was joking. However, in a June 2018 interview, when asked if he would admit that the world is round, he said "I don't know. I really don't", and added that people should "do [their] own research for what [they] want to believe in" because "Our educational system is flawed". Several months later, he apologized for his original comments.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Irving refused to receive a vaccine against the virus, causing him to be unable to suit up for the Nets for the majority of the 2021-22 NBA season.