NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has “no doubt” that suspended Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving is not antisemitic, he said at a conference on Thursday, while LeBron James took to Twitter to defend his former teammate whose status with the Nets remains a mystery.
Those developments followed Nike co-founder Phil Knight telling CNBC, in an interview that aired earlier Thursday, that the relationship between the shoe giant and Irving is likely severed for good.
Silver met with Irving earlier this week, and he told attendees at the Sports Business Journal Dealmakers Conference in Washington that he came away from that conversation believing the situation is “incredibly unfortunate.”
“I personally, based on what he said directly to me, have no doubt that he’s not antisemitic,” Silver said. “But I think there’s a process that he’s going to now need to go through.”
That process — and when the Nets lift his suspension — hinges in part on how Irving satisfies a number of team-imposed return-to-play mandates, one of which was completed when he met with Silver earlier this week. There are several others, and the mandates have raised eyebrows of both the National Basketball Players Association — the union on which Irving holds an executive board seat — and James, among others.
“I told you guys that I don’t believe in sharing hurtful information,” James posted on Twitter, echoing comments he made after a Los Angeles Lakers game last week. “And I’ll continue to be that way but Kyrie apologized and he should be able to play. That’s what I think. It’s that simple. Help him learn- but he should be playing. What he’s asked to do to get back on the floor I think is excessive (in my opinion). He’s not the person that’s being portrayed of him.”
Irving’s suspension with the Nets will last at least five games. He’s already missed four, and in theory could return Sunday when Brooklyn visits the Lakers. It’s unclear when the Nets will reinstate him.
Nets general manager Sean Marks said Wednesday he had not spoken with Irving during his suspension.
“At the appropriate time, when we do talk and if there’s an update to share, I will certainly share it,” Marks said.
Silver told The New York Times on Thursday that he’s never known Irving to use antisemitic or hate speech, but added, “Whether or not he is antisemitic is not relevant to the damage caused by the posting of hateful content.”
The content was a since-deleted tweet posted by Irving last month with a link to a documentary called, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which includes Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories about Jews. In a contentious postgame interview session a couple days later, Irving defended his right to post what he wants.
The fallout was massive: Irving was criticized by Silver and several anti-hate groups including the Anti-Defamation League, the Nets eventually suspended Irving and then Nike announced last Friday that it “suspended” its relationship with Irving and canceled its plans to release his next signature shoe.
“I would doubt that we go back,” co-founder Phil Knight said in the CNBC interview that aired Thursday. “But I don’t know for sure.”