The NBA’s Hypocrisies Are Sabotaging Its Response to Kyrie Irving

The NBA’s Hypocrisies Are Sabotaging Its Response to Kyrie Irving

The NBA’s Hypocrisies Are Sabotaging Its Response to Kyrie Irving

The league won’t acknowledge its own culpability for the current climate of hate. 


The Brooklyn Nets have decided that Kyrie Irving is “not fit to associate” with their team for five games because he posted an anti-Semitic video called Hebrews to Negroes. Following Irving’s apology on Instagram—after he failed to apologize to the media twice—the team laid out a set of conditions for him to return that seem designed to ensure that if he refuses, it could mean the end of his career. I wrote about the politics of the film—and, more importantly, the white supremacist forces celebrating Kyrie—last week. But suffice it to say, seeing the film, which denies the Holocaust and claims that Jews worship Satan, atop Amazon’s charts has Nazi message boards in a tizzy of joy. It’s like a giggling popularity contest between boosters of Elon, Tucker, Kanye, and Kyrie.

Whether Kyrie believes the mythologies presented in Hebrews to Negroes is one issue. But his inability to disavow his fascist cheering section is distressing. Even more disturbing is that neither the Nets nor the NBA have pressed him on this point. Their silence on the broader political implications of the film’s new popularity has created a dynamic: The Nets and the league seem primarily concerned with the hurt feelings of their Jewish fan base, not addressing the political climate of white supremacist rage, which is precisely what makes the film’s ideas so dangerous.

They will not address the climate, because then they would have to address their own complicity in its creation. They would have to address why they are fine with the DeVos family, which owns the Orlando Magic, bankrolling groups on the Christian right, including the work of fascistic Blackwater founder Erik Prince whose sister, Betsy DeVos, was the education secretary under Trump. They would have to address why 81 percent of political money spent by franchise owners flowed to the GOP in 2020, with several sending small fortunes to the election denier, coup plotter, and bigot in chief Donald Trump. The orange fascist has done more to whip up hatred against oppressed groups, including American-born Jews, than Kyrie could in a 1,000 lifetimes. Yet the league will provide a home for a right-wing union-busting billionaire like the Trump-loving Tilman Fertitta of the Houston Rockets.

Then there is Nets billionaire owner Joseph Tsai, cofounder of the company Alibaba, which, according to an ESPN report, financially supported the “cultural genocide” of Uyghur Muslims. Tsai insisted on meeting with Irving to “educate” him about the perils of anti-Semitism. (For some reason, Tsai is “fit to associate” with the Brooklyn Nets.) Then there is the Anti-Defamation League, which returned a $500,000 donation from Irving and is one of the arbiters of Kyrie’s repentance. The ADL, which is presented in the press as if it’s the Jewish version of the NAACP, is an organization with its own history of attacks against Black leaders and virulent anti-Palestinian bigotry. (I strongly encourage people to read this piece in the Boston Review by Emmaia Gelman about the history of the ADL.)

None of this is to give Kyrie a pass. I don’t believe in “whataboutism,” where the sins of one are absolved by the sins of their enemies. But it is to point out that those standing in judgment of him are some of the worst actors in our politics.

This is why I oppose the fines and suspensions against Kyrie. All they do is turn him into a martyr and make the film that much more attractive to the fascist-curious. Adam Silver and the league have also now drawn a line that means NBA athletes, who have been encouraged over the last decade to speak their minds, must now watch what they say or face consequences. Many people are reading it to mean there is free speech for Black athletes—but only as long as people in power can abide the beliefs being expressed. This is causing fans, tragically in my view, to equate Kyrie with the great athlete-activists of decades past. He hasn’t shown that courage or earned that distinction. But the more he is punished, the more people will think that shoe fits. Again, that’s a tragedy, but it would be one of the NBA’s making.

Then what do you do? The only way to fight anti-Semitism is by linking it to broader fights against racism and oppression. (And solidarity to my Black Jewish friends who find themselves straddling these identities in highly divisive times.) This won’t happen by making Kyrie a martyr.

The only way we can make these links is to both condemn this video while also condemning the anti-Black racism of the response, not to mention the anti-Black racism that constantly goes ignored. When Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan expressed joy that Kyrie was “put in his place,” that was anti-Black racism, and it should be condemned.

Kanye West clearly has no interest—financial or political—in a mass movement against all forms of oppression. Floyd Mayweather, another Kyrie supporter, is a serial abuser of women, not a fighter for anyone’s liberation. Our ability to come together will mean saying we are against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism; that if we condemn Kyrie’s actions, we also condemn the actions of the hypocrites swirling around him. This might sound like pie in the sky—don’t suspend Kyrie, but build a movement to confront all racist and bigoted ideas—but it’s the best choice among the awful alternatives, and the only one that provides hope that we can emerge from this darkness.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy