• Zack Slogoff

Accountability - The Aftermath of Kyrie’s Tweets


[1] Photo credit

The NBA and the Brooklyn Nets have once again come face-to-face with what has become an all too familiar question in basketball in recent years – What to do about Kyrie Irving?


Although his on-court talent has never been up for debate, the former NBA champion and first overall draft pick now finds himself on the bench after receiving a five-game suspension issued in-house by Nets owner Joe Tsai.[2] The suspension comes following a puzzling string of social media posts on Irving’s Twitter account endorsing a homemade documentary uploaded to Amazon Prime Video four years ago by an amateur filmmaker in which false conspiracies about the Jewish people are promulgated.[3]


The documentary titled “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” previously existed in a relatively obscure area of the internet, as expected from an $8,000 production crafted in the home of filmmaker Ronald Dalton. However, Irving came across it and promoted the film to his 4.6 million followers on Twitter, immediately and exponentially increasing its visibility.[4] The film is riddled with antisemitic themes and propaganda, leading Jewish organizations and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to worry that this promotion by Irving presents yet another example of anti-Jewish narratives assimilating to prominence in recent mainstream popular culture.[5]


As of Friday, November 4th, 2022, the audiobook version of the film was the highest selling title in Amazon’s “Christian Living” category.[6] The day before, Irving refused to apologize for his promotion of the movie in a confusing press conference where he reaffirmed his beliefs and claimed he had not meant to hurt or impact any communities with his tweets.[7]


Following the press conference, he was suspended by the Nets for five games without pay. Additionally, owner Joe Tsai drafted a list of tasks Irving must complete before being able to return to the court including:

  • Meeting for sensitivity training

  • An apology and condemnation of the film

  • A $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes

  • Antisemitism training[8]

This is not the first time Irving has displayed a self-hindering sense of stubbornness. He received backlash during the 2021-2022 season for failure to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, rendering him unable to play in home games pursuant to the laws and guidelines of New York City.[9] Due to these types of incidents, the conversation surrounding Kyrie has progressed so far from the actual sport of basketball that even sponsors have begun to terminate relationships with the star athlete.


The most notable of these sponsors is sneaker and athletic apparel conglomerate Nike.[10] A surplus of inventory has troubled Nike in recent months, as it has many other businesses in our nation.[11] Nike is concerned it will have to heavily mark down prices on shoes and sportswear during the competitive holiday season, potentially taking a toll on its stock value which has already fallen 41 percent in the past year.[12]

Unfortunately, another blow to the company came following the Irving controversy. A day after Kyrie’s suspension, Nike halted its relationship with the Nets star and stated it would not be releasing the new version of his signature shoe, the Kyrie 8’s, which were supposed to hit the market in late November.[13] Irving and Nike have been collaborating on sneakers since 2014, and although Nike has not disclosed how much revenue Irving’s brand exactly brings in, it likely is no small chunk of change.[14]


This move by Nike demonstrates the unwillingness of a major company to support an athlete who promotes values that can be detrimental to society. The suspension of business with Irving will likely not impact Nike tremendously given the plethora of other athletes they collaborate with; most notably, their wildly profitable relationships with Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. [15] However, it is impactful to see a company take a stance against something they have power over and denounce hate. The supply chain and sourcing issues Nike is facing are not easily fixed, but the Irving situation seems more easily mendable.


This newest chapter in the perplexing story that has been Kyrie Irving’s NBA career presents many challenging questions. Was it truly Irving’s intention to direct hate towards the Jewish community? Likely not. It seems to be more of a spontaneous, uneducated post with little to no thought put in. Given the topical presence of the freedom of speech debate, it is important to acknowledge that Irving has the right to say what he pleases so long as he is not directly inciting violence and terror.


With that said, organizations like the Brooklyn Nets and Nike also maintain the right to sanction Irving as they see fit.[16] The center of the issue appears to be Kyrie’s refusal to take accountability for his actions and admit when he is wrong. Until he does that, the Brooklyn Nets will be no more than a fringe playoff team with loads of talent that gets looked back on for what could have been.


As the situation progresses and Kyrie makes his eventual return to the court, it will be interesting to see how his sponsors and partnered brands move forward. Will others follow Nike’s lead, condemn his actions, and terminate relationships with him? That remains to be seen. Moreover, as a free agent this upcoming offseason, Irving’s play upon his return will determine if other teams in the NBA are willing to take a risk on a very talented guard who brings a lot of attention, both positive and negative.[17] It could potentially be Kyrie’s last season in the NBA, which may have seemed outlandish to say just a year ago. However, only time will tell.


References:

[1] Photo courtesy of Morik, Ryan. “Nike Suspends Relationship with Kyrie Irving amid Antisemitic Controversy.” Fox Business, Fox Business, 5 Nov. 2022, https://www.foxbusiness.com/sports/nike-suspends-relationship-kyrie-irving-antisemitic-controversy. [2] “Kyrie Irving: Why His Tweets Have Got Him in Trouble.” BBC News, BBC, 7 Nov. 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-63541365. [3] Schwartzel, Erich “How an Amateur Documentary Got onto Amazon Prime and Led to Kyrie Irving's Suspension.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 4 Nov. 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-an-amateur-documentary-got-onto-amazon-prime-and-led-to-kyrie-irvings-suspension-11667585819?st=xg6f27twuf7773a&mod=article_inline. [4] Id. [5] Id. [6] Id. [7] Radnofsky, Louise, et al. “Kyrie Irving Issues Apology in Anti-Semitism Furor after Nets Suspend Him.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 4 Nov. 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/kyrie-irving-nba-adam-silver-11667503414?mod=article_inline. [8] Beaton, Andrew, et al. “Kyrie Irving Is Still a Problem for the Nets and the NBA.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 5 Nov. 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/kyrie-irving-twitter-movie-suspended-antisemitism-11667590060. [9] Id. [10] Creswell, Julie, et al. “Reality of Irving's Import to Nike: 'They Can Drop Him'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Nov. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/06/business/nike-kyrie-irving.html. [11] Id. [12] Id. [13] Id. [14] Morik, supra. [15] Id. [16] Radnofsky, supra. [17] Beaton, supra.