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Nets fans respond to Kyrie Irving with ‘Fight Antisemitism’ shirts

Fans sitting courtside at Barclays Center sent a message about antisemitism to Kyrie Irving during the Brooklyn Nets’ game against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. (Jessie Alcheh/AP)

A group of fans seated courtside at the Brooklyn Nets game Monday night at Barclays Center aimed a pointed message at Kyrie Irving, wearing black T-shirts that read “Fight antisemitism” in white letters.

Last week, the Nets guard tweeted a link to “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” a 2018 movie based on a book that contains antisemitic tropes. Irving said he was not antisemitic but defended his tweet Saturday night, telling reporters: “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in. I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.” After criticism from Nets owner Joe Tsai and the Anti-Defamation League, and a statement from the NBA condemning hate speech but not naming Irving, he deleted the tweet Sunday.

Against the backdrop of the controversy created by Irving, the Nets have started 2-5 and on Tuesday the team and coach Steve Nash parted ways.

Aaron Jungreis, a Nets season ticket holder who was one of eight fans wearing the shirts, told ESPN Monday night he thought Irving should have been suspended for his comments.

“We felt that the Nets did not condemn an antisemite in their ranks,” Jungreis said, “and we wanted to show love. We’re still Net fans and we love the team, but they should reprimand Kyrie because he’s full of hate. We’re full of love. Hopefully he’ll come around to the other side.”

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Mike Dube, another fan in the group, told SNY that Irving greeted them, saying he appreciated them during a timeout.

Irving was not made available to reporters after the Nets’ 116-109 win over the Indiana Pacers. Jungreis cited Irving’s combative news conference Saturday night as another factor in the fans’ decision to send a message.

“I hope he realizes how much antisemitism he is stoking by putting out [a link to] a film like this, which is extremely anti-Jewish,” Jungreis said. “And I hope he comes to his senses. … I think he should be suspended and he should understand what he did, but I don’t know if [the Nets] will [suspend him].”

Before the game, Nash said he was not part of every internal discussion within the organization but added that the team’s handling of Irving is an “ongoing conversation.” It “certainly helps,” Nash said, that Irving deleted the post. The Nets’ home game Tuesday against the Bulls will be nationally televised on TNT.

“I just hope that we all go through this together,” Nash said. “There’s always an opportunity for us to grow and understand new perspectives. 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.”

The Nets are already preaching patience. That’s not a great sign.

The Nets declined to extend Irving’s contract this past summer, putting in question whether this might be his last season in Brooklyn. Irving has made headlines for supporting the idea that the Earth is flat, and he recently shared a video clip from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Irving was unavailable for most of the Nets’ home games last season because he refused to comply with New York City’s coronavirus vaccination mandate.

“They should not keep a guy like that around,” Jungreis told Ian O’Connor of the New York Post.

Antisemitism became a flash point in sports over the weekend, when antisemitic messages were on display in Jacksonville, Fla., before and after the college football game between Florida and Georgia. Both schools and the SEC condemned the messages, as did Shad Khan, owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

On Sunday, a video from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, the Kraft Family Foundation and the Kraft Group’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism was shown during the first quarter of the game between the Patriots and New York Jets, encouraging people to speak out against hate speech.

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