Nets’ Kyrie Irving says he’s ‘not antisemitic’ and ‘should’ve just answered the questions and just moved on’
In his first interview since the Brooklyn Nets suspended him, Nets guard Kyrie Irving told SNY’s Ian Begley on Saturday that he “should’ve just answered the questions and just moved on” in two contentious press conferences after he publicized a documentary full of antisemitic conspiracy theories on social media. Irving said that he “meant no harm” by his initial posts on Twitter and Instagram, and repeatedly referenced his upbringing in West Orange, New Jersey.
“I really want to focus on the hurt that I caused or the impact that I made within the Jewish community, putting some type of threat or assumed threat on the Jewish community,” Irving told SNY. “I just want to apologize deeply for all my actions throughout the time that it’s been since the post was first put up. I’ve had a lot of time to think, but my focus initially, if I could do it over, would be to heal and repair a lot of my close relationships with my Jewish relatives, brothers and sisters. My journey is very unique. I grew up in a big melting pot full of different races, cultures and religions of people, so a lot of these conversations about antisemitism or anti-Blackness or anti-whiteness or any anti- that goes against a specific group of people, within my household, we used to talk about it.”
The Nets suspended Irving on Nov. 4, announcing in a press release that he was “unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets” until he completed “a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct.” Since then, Irving said, he has been on a “learning journey,” which featured “a lot of conversations that needed to be had” and “a lot of reflection.”
“I’m a man who stands for peace,” Irving said. “I don’t condone any hate speech or any prejudice and I don’t want to be in a position where I’m being misunderstood on where I stand in terms of antisemitism or any hate for that matter for anybody in this world. So the process over the last few weeks was just a lot of conversations. I don’t want to get too deep into the details of those conversations but they were very moving, very impactful and it helped me become more aware of the repair that needed to be done, the healing that needs to be done still. So here I am, just really acknowledging the fact that it hasn’t been easy. Some of it has been painful, just learning about the history between different groups of people. And it’s given me a greater perspective.”
Irving has missed Brooklyn’s last eight games because of the suspension, but the team has listed him as “questionable” for Sunday’s game at Barclays Center against the Memphis Grizzlies. He said that, going forward, he has to “live responsibility and set a greater example for our youth, for my generation and the older generation.”
The Nets did not suspend Irving for the social media posts. They suspended him a week later, after they were “dismayed,” as they put it in the press release, “that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film.” In this interview with SNY, Irving said he is “not antisemitic.”
“I never have been,” Irving continued. “I don’t have hate in my heart for the Jewish people or anyone who identifies as a Jew. I’m not anti-Jewish or any of that. And it’s been difficult to sit at home with my family with them seeing all of this and having questions. And the part that hasn’t been hard is explaining myself because I know who I am and I know what I represent, but I think the difficult aspect is just processing all this, understanding the power of my voice, the influence I have.”
As for the content of the film and his decision to share it with his followers, Irving repeated what he’d said at a press conference on Oct. 29: He “went to look up my name, Kyrie, which also translates in Hebrew to Yahweh or YHWH,” he said, “and I wanted to share the link with all those that were also on the same journey and search for their heritage as I am on.”
Irving continued: “The unfortunate aspect in that three-hour documentary is the antisemitic remarks in terms of generalizing Jewish people. I believe that was unfair, and that wasn’t the aspect of the post that I wanted the focus to be on. The initial post was supposed to be for all those that were searching for more information, more history and are able to interpret it in a way where they see it as progressive and they learn something from it. Again, it was just a post. It was no context I put into it. I was just watching the video to learn more about the heritage, do a deeper dive into who I am. And unfortunately in that process, I hurt some people, and I’m sorry for that. But the search for what tribe I belong to, where I come from, is ongoing. And I’m continuing this search with God and, wherever I’m placed, I believe that that’s where I’m supposed to be.
“But I had to go through this to truly understand my power and the position I sit in and understand that some things are meant to be explained and I should have done that. Instead of being in this position now where there are a bunch of assumptions or questions on what I meant and how I wanted it to be portrayed. It wasn’t a promotion. It wasn’t something that I was advocating for in terms of antisemitic remarks. Just the majority of the documentary was speaking on the lost tribes of our world, Black people specifically, and dealing with other races that are also searching for their history. So it’s a longer question, I don’t want to get too longwinded here, but mainly I just want to talk about the progression that I’ve made and also sitting in this unique position of bringing people together. So that’s the mission and purpose that I’m focused on and that’s what God has put on my heart.”
Both the film “Hebrews to Negroes” and the book that it is based on allege that Jewish people have established “five major falsehoods” in order to “conceal their nature and protect their status and power.” The thesis is that Jewish people are secretly trying to “extort America” as part of “their plan for world domination.” One of the five purported “falsehoods” is that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Asked his thought process behind not unequivocally denouncing the antisemitic material in the film or stating plainly that he does not have antisemitic beliefs before he was suspended, Irving told SNY on Saturday that, as a child, he “picked up early on that we are really legitimately one human race, and it is our job as human beings to protect one another.”
Irving continued: “After the post came out and the press conference happened, I felt like I was protecting the truth. But all in all, I felt like I was protecting my character. And I reacted out of just pure defense. And just hurt that I could be labeled or I thought that I was being labeled as antisemitic or anti-Jewish and I felt like that was just so disrespectful to ask me whether or not I was antisemitic or not. Now, to the outside world it, may have been seen as a simple yes or no, you know, which, rightfully so — it should have been, ‘No, I’m not antisemitic. No, I’m not anti-Jewish. I am a person that believes that we all should have equal opportunities and that we should all shower each other with love,’ and that should be at the forefront. But it wasn’t in that initial conversation, and I take my accountability and I want to apologize for that because it came off the wrong way completely.”
During a media availability on Nov. 4, Irving repeatedly said, “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from” and declined to elaborate.
“That statement itself was just referring back to my childhood and all of the relatives and friends that I have made and that I will continue to get t know on a deeper level,” Irving told SNY. “They’re Jewish, some of them are Jewish, some of them are not Jewish. But I felt like that didn’t matter. And because I felt like it didn’t matter in that moment, it came off the wrong way. So I’m glad that I could clean that up right now. It’s unfortunate that that was taken the wrong way and taken out of context. But I really just wanted to focus on how I can become better from that. Because there were some statements that were used that I don’t necessarily feel like are true representations of me and what I stand for. And it’s just now I’m in this space to be able to say, ‘Hey, I know that I could have handled that better, I did not mean to send any hurt or threats or impact or harm to the Jewish community or anyone in it.’
“My intent was just to say I’m proud of who I am and I am a leader in my own right, but I also know that in order to be a leader you have to embrace others’ strengths and weaknesses, faults, flaws, beauty. And I wish I got a chance to do that in that moment because I embrace everyone. So this is something that I’m still going to be—I’m still going to have the opportunity to work through that press conference moment or the other press conference moment, but I’ll say that I should’ve just answered the questions and just moved on. And just kept the conversation centered on me embracing all walks of life and having love for our world.”
Irving said that he wants “to deal with it better right now and just say that I’m sorry to not only the Jewish community but to my family members and to my relatives because they know I stand for something bigger and I’m grateful now I get to explain myself.”
In his Instagram apology post after the suspension, Irving wrote that he wants to have “an open dialogue to learn more and grow from this,” adding that he is “learning from this unfortunate event and hope we can find understanding between us all.” Asked what that will look like for him, he told SNY, “I’ve learned over the last few weeks that speaking openly about religion and culture and race, it’s gotta be a safe space where everyone can speak openly and they’re not judged harshly or unfairly or unjustly.”
Irving continued: “I believe as human beings we all have different beliefs but there’s one universal true God that we all serve and in order to do that sometimes you have to go into some uncomfortable situations to really understand why you’re there. And for me, that’s the position I felt like I was in. The dialogue was a great start, but the reality is that our actions as human beings and my actions are going to have to speak louder because there is a level of hurt and pain that a lot of communities feel for not being recognized for a lot of their history and a lot of their cultural achievements and accomplishments and because of that there is a pride that they feel, that I feel, that it should be represented the right way and there shouldn’t be a fear or a thought, a second thought, that comes with this. It’s just standing up for the right things, making sure that you’re standing up with everyone.”
Then Irving said that he is “joining a collective effort, a collective community, a commune of people that really want to see the world in a more accepting way, in a more liberating way, in a freeing way I’ll say in terms of being able to be proud of who you are without feeling like you’re dismissing others.”
He added that he is “grateful that I got an opportunity to do this over these last few weeks. Obviously, I didn’t want to be away from my teammates or the game or from work, but I’m grateful that I was utilized as a beacon to start this dialogue and start these conversations so we can move our world forward.”
Irving said he wanted to turn the crisis “into a positive moment.” He “did not realize how much impact that it would cause, posting the link,” he said. “And I honestly am guilty of not knowing how powerful my platforms are. And because of that, there were just some more or less misinterpretations or misunderstandings that took place.” He said he feels a “oneness” with “all those around me” and wants to “continue to build on that” by creating a “safe space for all those that want to see a peaceful world and a harmonious world the opportunity to speak openly without feeling the judgment of being harshly criticized or being canceled.”
He said that there are “a few things” that can’t be criticized “in today’s world,” and that “it’s not something that I’m used to because, again, in my childhood, in my household, I have such a great representation of all races and all religions and all people. So these conversations are just normal. They’re normalized in my household. We talk about everything. There isn’t anything off the table. We don’t judge one another. And I assume that, at this point, I had to learn that society just doesn’t work that way or they’re not ready to work that way in general. But I’m creating this space in order to do that. And the movement is just being started, I believe.”
Asked if he has a message for the Jewish community, Irving said: “Yeah, message to the Jewish community, to my Jewish relatives, to my Jewish brothers and sisters, is we are more alike than we realize. We have similar struggles. And I can acknowledge those. We have so much connectivity between our cultures. And I would just like that to continue. I would just like to focus on the light that we share with one another, taking care of our families.”
Irving “reacted defensively,” he said. “But I would say that, if you got to know me a little bit more, which, I would love to use this opportunity to do that, just give you an inside look at Kai — I think a lot of people know Kyrie Irving and know the baseline story or the surface story, but me as Kai, as I know myself, I grew up around Jewish members of the community and it’s never been anything less than love and embracing and warm invites into our homes. So this is nothing new to me in terms of keeping an open dialogue within the Jewish community.
“It’s just unfortunate the circumstances that we’re under put me in a position where I felt like I had to defend me and my family rather than just focusing on how I’m continuing to progress these relationships, whether they’re Jewish or Black or white. I just care about people and when I hurt someone I do want to take my accountability and responsibility and say that I’ll do better.”