That the Nets have tolerated Kyrie Irving this long is to their everlasting shame

November 1, 2022

By the time you read this, Kyrie Irving may have been waived by the Brooklyn Nets in the wake of his tweets giving a platform to an antisemitic film. As usual, I think Bomani Jones has simultaneously the most thoughtful yet righteous points about this situation of anyone I’ve seen in national media, saying that through his statements Irving has made it clear he wants to be taken seriously, but only selectively, and he refuses to take responsibility for harmful things he says and does because his apparent motivation is to feel that he is right.

Amid the ugliness of Irving’s sharing that film, then refusing to disown it while holding off on deleting his posts, there’s another bit of ugliness that I believe is mostly going unsaid because writers addressing this issue are taking it for granted, even though it is worth stating plainly: Irving wasn’t released immediately upon publication of his antisemitic tweets because the Nets believe he gives them a better chance to win basketball games.

Even the missives calling for the Nets to jettison Irving elide this point, and somehow, Nets coach Steve Nash has already signaled that he’s ready to talk about anything else by going on camera to say some wild bullshit: “I think the organization is trying to take that stance where we can communicate through this. And try to all come out in a better position and both more understanding and more empathy for every side of this debate and situation.” (And, uh, Nash was just fired?)

If that’s the company-approved line, then the Nets are morally bankrupt and everyone involved ought to question why their threshold for tolerating antisemitism and hate is so fucking high. That Nash couldn’t do better than talking about “debate” and “understanding” when it comes to antisemitism expressed by one of the team’s star players suggests this issue doesn’t matter to him and he’s reaching for the right words to soothe the people who are mad at the organization. Antisemitism isn’t worthy of “debate” or “understanding” and anyone saying such a thing publicly either doesn’t actually care about eradicating hate from public life or has been forced into saying it by people who would minimize the spread of antisemitism and other forms of hate to protect their selfish interests.

Hate speech is destructive and must be stamped out immediately lest it lead to terrible consequences (if you haven’t, read the Parable of the Bartender, I beg you). Sophisticated hate proselytizers have a sense for how to rile up their target audience and get them to feel united against common enemies. Therefore, even if Irving’s teammates and the Nets’ coaching staff still feel safe around him, he ought to be expelled and shunned, because by keeping him on the team, the Nets are tolerating behavior — and in this instance his speech amounts to promotion, which is behavior — that encourages anti-Jewish hate to a large audience, which in turn can give people social permission to hurt people they think are Jews.

Irving doesn’t see that. Worse, the Nets appear to have failed because they, collectively, have chosen to appreciate Irving’s handle and his ability to create his own shot over basic dignity for themselves and the people whose lives Irving has unmistakably harmed.

At a time when public figures shrug off any hints of shame for their actions as a matter of course, I doubt Irving will express any remorse; at this point, we can’t expect any better from him. But worse, the Nets appear to be taking the same path, hinting that as an organization they are distressed by Irving’s behavior while not actually taking action to rectify their association with him. You don’t have to squint very hard to take the team’s response as straight-up tolerance of his hate speech in exchange for, like, 10 percent better odds of winning an NBA playoff series.

I’d wish shame upon the whole lot of them, but, again, shame doesn’t have much effect anymore.

(Photo: "Kyrie Irving" by Erik Drost. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)