NEW YORK – For the first time in over two weeks, Kyrie Irving made the walk over to the assembled reporters, only this time he was flanked by Nets general manager Sean Marks, NBPA executive director Tamika L. Tremaglio, his stepmother and agent Shetellia Riley Irving and a league spokesperson.
Addressing the media for the first time since the Nets suspended him for at least five games due to his promotion of an antisemitic documentary, the 6-foot-2 point guard — set to return to play Sunday night against the Grizzlies — spoke for roughly 13 minutes, displaying emotion at the beginning of his comments. He acknowledged the hurt he caused and the faults in the way he handled the situation publicly after two previous tumultuous news conferences.
“I just want to offer my deep apologies to all those who are impacted over these last few weeks, specifically my Jewish relatives, my Black relatives, you know, all races and cultures,” Irving said. “I feel like we all felt the impact. And I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech, or antisemitism or anything that is anti-going against the human race. I feel like we all should have an opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are assumed about us. And I feel it was necessary for me to stand in this place and take accountability for my actions, because there was a way I should have handled all this.”
Irving went on to express regret for not apologizing publicly when he had the chance.
“You know, that wasn’t my intent at all. I meant no harm to any person, any group of people,” he said. “And yeah, this is a big moment for me, because I’m able to learn throughout this process that the power of my voice is very strong. The influence that I have within my community is very strong, and I want to be responsible for that. In order to do that, you have to admit when you’re wrong in instances where you hurt people, and it impacts them. And I just wanted to clarify some things as well on my end.”
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Irving reiterated that his original intent when he first found the documentary was to learn more about himself after searching his name and realizing it translated to “Yahweh,” which he said on Nov. 5 was what he searched for on Amazon.
The Nets suspended Irving without pay on Nov. 3, shortly after a news conference in which he didn’t apologize for posting the documentary to his social media accounts and would not say outright he isn’t antisemitic. The comments came a day after Irving released a joint statement with the Nets and the Anti-Defamation League, in which both Irving and Brooklyn pledged $500,000 to fight anti-hate causes. After Irving’s second news conference, the ADL said it would n’t accept his donation from him. At the time, the team said Irving “is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets,” and that he would not return “until he satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct.”
While Irving was suspended, The Athletic reported that he had to fulfill six steps, including meeting with Jewish community leaders, to get back on the court. Sunday’s return ends his suspension at eight games.
“Kyrie took ownership of his journey and had conversations with several members of the Jewish community,” the Nets said in a statement Sunday. “We are pleased that he is going about the process in a meaningful way.”
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Without going into specifics, Irving spoke of his meetings with Jewish leaders and the impact they had on him, causing him to recognize the scope of his platform.
“It should have been on the first day that I was dealing with all this, just being here for all those who felt like this was antisemitic,” Irving said. “I should have clarified that I’m not antisemitic. I am not anti-anything when it comes to the way I live my life. The learning lesson for me was the power of my platform and the impact it can cause if it is not taken care of the right way.”
He added that his discussion with the Jewish community has given him a “deeper understanding” of the hurt he caused.
“That’s why I’m here apologizing,” he said. “I thought it was necessary in my heart to extend the olive branch invitation not just to the Jewish community but all races in our world that I’m here to listen and I’m here to stand with you against any issues that may be plaguing your community. This fight is much bigger than myself and I’m not alone in this. I know all those that share the same alignment of seeing a more peaceful world are with me on this. So, what I’ve been able to learn is sit back and reflect and have a conversation.”
The NBPA, of which Irving serves as a vice president, released a statement after he spoke Sunday saying that Irving has “developed a deeper understanding and has grown personally from this experience” and “remains committed to using his platform to bring people together through love and understanding.”
“We’re excited to see him back with his teammates doing was he loves,” the NBPA said.
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A lot has happened since Irving last played for the Nets — in a loss to the Bulls on Nov. 1 in which he scored just four points. Jacque Vaughn has had the interim tag removed and is now the Nets’ permanent coach and the team has rattled off some wins, sitting at 7-9 with four winnable games in front of them. Ben Simmons is starting to get into a groove and Kevin Durant has scored 25 points or more through the first 16 games of the season. Irving’s return gives Brooklyn a chance at some momentum — which it would welcome, given all the drama the team has already faced this season.
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