Kyrie Irving Loses Nike Deal Following Antisemitism Scandal

The laces have come undone. 

After the Brooklyn Nets suspended their star point guard Kyrie Irving for a minimum of five games without pay, the seven-time All-Star player received some other troubling news on Friday. Nike had decided to bench its relationship with the controversial athlete. Moreover, they canceled the launch of his Kyrie 8 signature shoe, a long-in-development product that was to have launched this month.

The sneaker giant released a statement that read, “we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

The controversy began last week when Irving posted a link to an antisemitic propaganda film that reiterates talking points from the Black Hebrew Israelites, which is listed as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Adherents to the group were responsible for the 2019 shooting spree at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey that killed three people. The film and the book it is based upon recycle numerous historical untruths and Jewish conspiracy theories, some dating back to the long-debunked antisemitic fiction The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as fake quotes from Adolf Hitler. It also denies the severity of the Holocaust.

Irving deleted the initial tweet, but remained extremely cagey about issuing an apology during multiple interviews, earning rebukes from fellow basketball greats Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Former Nets coach Amar’e Stoudemire (who happens to be Jewish) said he understood that Irving is curious and seeks out new sources of information, but added, “once you starting putting information out there that’s not true, then now it creates a problem.” Charles Barkley urged NBA commissioner Adam Silver to take action. 

Though Irving and the Nets organization pledged to donate $500,000 each to “toward causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities,” the athlete’s prevarication and refusal to flatly renounce antisemitism during follow-up interviews eventually led the Nets to declare him “unfit to be associated” with the team on Thursday.

Afterwards, Irving uploaded a black square image to Instagram and included a lengthy caption that read, in part, that he took “full accountability and responsibly for my actions.” He wrote, “To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize.” 

He added that he “initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled Anti-Semitic,” and apologized “for posting the documentary without context.” 

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This clearly didn’t cut it with Nike, and no doubt having a newly-restored-to-Twitter provocateur like Kanye West egging the situation on didn’t help any. (The disgraced rapper went after Shaquille O’Neal after he denounced Irving, and was met with a verbal version of the Shaq Attack.)

Nike may have been looking for an excuse to cut ties with their difficult partner, anyway. In 2021, he called an early look at some new Irving-branded shoes and called them “trash” on social media.

An April 2021 report said Irving’s deal with Nike earned him $11 million the previous year, and called his shoes the second-most popular among fellow NBA players. 

This is far from Kyrie Irving’s first tussle with controversy. His refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, putting himself and his associates in the NBA at risk, earned him the dubious honor of becoming Sen. Ted Cruz’s new favorite player. Far less harmful, though certainly perplexing, was the time in 2017 when the athlete confirmed that he believed the earth was flat

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