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NBPA President CJ McCollum denounces antisemitism, sees 'learning experience' for players

McCollum: 'We condemn antisemitism in any form. You have to be careful about what you post. You have to know exactly what it is.'

Kyrie Irving's suspension has left his return to the court for Brooklyn up in the air, and it's going to take work to find the path back.

ATLANTA — While the National Basketball Players Association did not contest the punishment imposed on Kyrie Irving by the Brooklyn Nets, its president denounced antisemitism Saturday and called Irving’s involvement “unfortunate.”

That was the first official response by Pelicans guard CJ McCollum regarding a blistering week in which Irving — a players union vice president — used social media to post a link to a movie with antisemitic messages and then waited six combative days before finally issuing an apology.

Irving is serving a team-imposed suspension of at least five games, and it reportedly comes with a series of conditions to meet ahead of a potential return. Among other things, Irving must reportedly agree to sensitivity training, discuss the situation with Jewish leaders and it all must meet the satisfaction of Nets owner Joe Tsai, who will confer with Irving and then either add to the suspension or lift it.

McCollum said he and union members have spent the last few days in discussions with league officials and others to “move forward and figure out this situation.” He called those talks “productive.”

McCollum added: “We specifically condemn antisemitism in any form. We believe in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion … the important thing to learn about this situation is you have a platform you have to be careful how you use it. Use this as a learning experience for all of us as players. You have to be careful about what you post. You have to know exactly what it is and you need to research and educate yourself on all religions, and all backgrounds all races so that you are comfortable speaking to that.”

The union is in a precarious situation with Irving. By definition, sports unions are created to support its members, especially in situations where fines and/or punishments are levied by teams or the league. In this case, the players union hasn’t used that muscle.

“We’re not his employer,” McCollum said, “we’re not his business partner, we’re not Nike. We’re in position as a union to look out for our players for ways to better educate them, to help them when they get into these types of situations. People have this different perception of how we’re supposed to react and behave.”

Also, NBA players by and large have been noticeably silent regarding Irving and criticism of him seems mostly muted, though LeBron James and Jewish forward Deni Avdija have publicly and forcefully commented. This is directly opposite of the harsh and in most cases instant reaction from players regarding Suns owner Robert Sarver and former Clippers owner Donald Sterling for using racially inflamed language. Sterling sold the team under pressure while Sarver announced his intentions to sell the Suns two months ago.

Regarding that imbalance, McCollum said: “I can’t speak to players’ reactions. I don’t have an answer for you.”

He did add: “I didn’t release a statement about Robert Sarver until it was finalized. I had conversations behind the scenes, same way as I am now. I’m speaking to people in power, I’m speaking to the league … this is an ongoing situation that has yet to be resolved, so I don’t feel comfortable speaking about certain things yet.”

Also, earlier last week the union issued a press release denouncing antisemitism but never mentioned Irving by name. Pressed on this, McCollum said: “I think a better question is why the league came out with a statement and didn’t mention him as well?”

Given Irving’s role as a union officer and the responsibility that comes with that, it’s an especially uncomfortable situation for the union. McCollum chose to focus on the damage and how to repair it.

“A lot of people were affected a lot of people were harmed by this,” he said. “It’s been tough. This is a learning experience where I don’t think (Irving) understood the magnitude of how it impacted others.”

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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