Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, who was suspended by the team earlier this month after posting a link to a film containing antisemitic material, on Saturday issued an apology to the Jewish community.
Speaking to SNY ahead of his expected return to the court on Sunday, Irving said, “I really want to focus on the hurt that I caused or the impact that I made within the Jewish community. Putting some type of threat, or assumed threat, on the Jewish community.”
“I just want to apologize deeply for all my actions throughout the time that it’s been since the post was first put up. I’ve had a lot of time to think. But my focus, initially, if I could do it over, would be to heal and repair a lot of my close relationships with my Jewish relatives, brothers and sisters,” he continued.
The Nets suspended Irving at the start of November for a minimum of five games after he shared a link to an antisemitic documentary on his Twitter account, then refused to “unequivocally say he has no antisemitic views.”
Irving did say in one of the news conferences which followed the tweet that he didn’t support everything in the film and couldn’t be antisemitic because he knows where he came from.
When asked Saturday about his decision to not fully apologize in the initial news conferences, Irving said he reacted emotionally to being labeled antisemitic. He referenced his upbringing in West Orange, N.J., which he described as “a melting pot for a lot of different religious backgrounds, races and cultures.”
“I felt like I was protecting my character and I reacted out of just pure defense and just hurt that I could be labeled, or I thought that I was being labeled as antisemitic or anti-Jewish, and I've felt like that was just so disrespectful to ask me whether or not I was antisemitic or not,” he explained to SNY.
“Now to the outside world, that may have been seen as a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Which rightfully so, it should've been, 'No, I'm not antisemitic. No, I'm not anti-Jewish.' I'm a person who believes we should all have equal opportunities and that we should all shower each other with love, and that should be at the forefront,” added Irving.
“But it wasn't in that initial conversation, and I take my accountability and I want to apologize for that, because it came off the wrong way completely. What I was really getting at was, 'How can I be antisemitic, if I know where I come from?' That statement itself was just referring back to my childhood and all the relatives and friends that I have made and that I will continue to get to know on a deeper level. They're Jewish – some of them are Jewish, some of them are not Jewish. I felt like that didn't matter, and because I felt like that didn't matter in the moment, it came off the wrong way.”
Several times in Saturday’s interview, Irving told SNY he hoped the conversations he’s had over the past two weeks are the first steps in bridging “gaps” between communities.
“The reality is that our actions as human beings and my actions, are going to have to speak louder (than words) because there is a level of hurt and pain that a lot of communities feel for not being recognized, for a lot of their history and a lot of their cultural achievements and accomplishments,” he said. “Because of that, there is a pride that they feel, that I feel, that it should be represented the right way and there shouldn’t be a fear or a thought or a second thought with this. It’s just standing up for the right things. Making sure that you’re standing up with everyone, but specifically in this case, this is the Jewish community that we’re recognizing.”
Irving said he wants to now focus on the "light" shared between Jewish and Black communities. He reiterated that he hopes that the conversations he’s had in the aftermath of his suspension help bring a greater understanding between communities and thanked family and friends for their support.
In response to Irving’s post, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association made multiple public comments admonishing hate speech, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivering a strong statement that mentioned he planned to meet with the seven-time All-Star.
Last week, Silver indeed met with Irving for what was described as “a productive and understanding visit”.
Silver, who is Jewish, later said that after meeting with Irving, he has “no doubt that he’s not antisemitic.”
“We had a direct and candid conversation,” Silver told the New York Times. “He’s someone I’ve known for a decade, and I’ve never heard an antisemitic word from him or, frankly, hate directed at any group.”