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Kyrie Irving apologizes after Nets suspend him for refusing to disavow antisemitism

The Brooklyn Nets have suspended Kyrie Irving for at least five games. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
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Following a week-long saga that saw interventions from the Anti-Defamation League and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the Brooklyn Nets suspended Kyrie Irving for at least five games without pay on Thursday, deeming the all-star guard “currently unfit to be associated” with the organization following his repeated refusals to apologize for a social media post about an antisemitic film and book.

Irving, who agreed Wednesday to donate $500,000 to support anti-hate causes in partnership with the ADL, said he “took responsibility” for the post but did not apologize when he met with reporters Thursday afternoon.

“Over the last several days, we have made repeated attempts to work with Kyrie Irving to help him understand the harm and danger of his words and actions, which began with him publicizing a film containing deeply disturbing antisemitic hate,” the Nets said in a statement. “We believed that taking the path of education in this challenging situation would be the right one and thought that we had made progress with our joint commitment to eradicating hate and intolerance.

“We were dismayed today, when given an opportunity in a media session, that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film. This was not the first time he had the opportunity — but failed — to clarify.”

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The Nets concluded that Irving’s refusal to “disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity” was “deeply disturbing” and constituted “conduct detrimental to the team.”

In a message posted to Instagram late Thursday evening, Irving finally relented and apologized “to all Jewish families and communities that are hurt and affected from my post,” acknowledging that he had linked to a film that “contained some false antisemitic statements, narratives and language that were untrue and offensive.”

Irving continued: “I initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled antisemitic, instead of focusing on the healing process of my Jewish Brothers and Sisters that were hurt from the hateful remarks made in the documentary. I want to clarify any confusion on where I stand fighting against antisemitism by apologizing for posting the documentary without context and a factual explanation outlining the specific beliefs in the documentary I agreed with.”

After word of Irving’s suspension first broke, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the nonprofit organization would not accept Irving’s $500,000 pledge, which was to be matched by the Nets.

“We were optimistic but after watching the debacle of a press conference, it’s clear that Kyrie feels no accountability for his actions,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter. “ADL cannot in good conscience accept his donation.”

Irving linked to the film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” in a social media post last Thursday. When questioned by reporters Saturday about the film’s content and a previous social media post about Alex Jones’s “New World Order” conspiracy theory, Irving denied that he was antisemitic but refused to apologize, arguing that “history is not supposed to be hidden from anybody.” During the heated exchange, he said he had not done anything illegal or harmed anyone. Irving added that the “New World Order” conspiracy theory was “true.”

Over the past week, the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association, the Nets and team owner Joe Tsai issued statements opposing antisemitism. Irving eventually deleted the post without any public comment, and a group of eight fans sat courtside at the Nets’ win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday wearing T-shirts that read “Fight Antisemitism.”

In a joint statement with the Nets and the ADL on Wednesday, Irving said that he was “aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community” and “meant no harm.”

But Silver felt that wasn’t a sufficient response for Irving’s “reckless decision” to link to the film. The commissioner said in a statement Thursday that he was “disappointed” that Irving had not issued an “unqualified apology” or “denounced the vile and harmful content contained in the film.”

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When Irving was given another chance to clarify his stance Thursday afternoon, he again refused to apologize.

“Where were you when I was a kid figuring out that 300 million of my ancestors are buried in America? Where were you guys asking those same questions when I was a kid dealing with learning about the traumatic events of my familial history and where I’m proud to come from and why I’m proud to stand here? When I repeat myself that I’m not going to stand down, it has nothing to do with dismissing any other race and group of people,” Irving said. “I’m just proud of my heritage and what we’ve been through. The fact that this has pinned me against the Jewish community, and I’m here answering questions on whether or not I’m sorry or not on something I didn’t create. It was something I shared and I’m telling everyone I’m taking responsibility — that’s where I sit.”

For Irving to return to the court, the Nets said he must satisfy a “series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct.” Brooklyn banished Irving for more than two months last season following his refusal to be vaccinated, then reversed course and allowed him to return on a part-time basis in January.

Irving will miss Brooklyn’s visit to the Washington Wizards on Friday and be sidelined until at least Nov. 12. The earliest he could return is a Nov. 13 game against the Lakers in Los Angeles.

The 30-year-old, who is averaging 26.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists, is earning $36.9 million this season in the final year of his contract. Per NBA rules, this suspension will cost Irving at least $1.25 million in salary.

Consumed by Irving’s controversial behavior and mired in a slow start, the Nets parted ways with coach Steve Nash on Tuesday. Brooklyn, which is 2-6, has explored the possibility of replacing Nash with the Boston Celtics’ Ime Udoka, who is serving a season-long suspension for having an improper relationship with a female staffer.

After Brooklyn parted ways with Nash, Irving looked disengaged throughout a 108-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, shooting 2 for 12 from the field and finishing with four points, the fewest of his four-year Nets tenure.

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