The protesters could not have placed themselves much more prominently. They were seated in the front row of the Barclays Center in New York, eight of them, all dressed in the same way. Dark t-shirts with white print: “Fight anti-Semitism.” It’s a clear message from the fans – and it’s clearly aimed at one addressee: Kyrie Irving. The Brooklyn Nets’ scandalous professional had once again drawn displeasure from the league, from his own club and now finally from his own fans.
Triggers were Irving’s cinematic preferences. The basketball player shared a link to the title “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” last Thursday. The film is considered racist and misogynist, homophobic and Islamophobic. It is based on a book according to which “many high-ranking Jews have reported that they worship the devil,” summarizes Rolling Stone.
The shitstorm for Irving was not long in coming and the official condemnation followed quickly. The NBA distanced itself, albeit without naming Irving, from “hate speech of any kind.” The Nets have officially stated that they have “zero tolerance for any form of advertising”. And even club owner Joe Tsai was forced to make a statement. “I’m disappointed that Kyrie appears to be supporting a film based on a book filled with anti-Semitic disinformation,” he wrote on Twitter. Everyone also emphasized that they would rely on dialogue with Irving.
And the point guard himself? Irving remained largely stubborn and unapologetic. After the first game against the Indiana Pacers (116:125) on Saturday, the 30-year-old defended himself at the press conference. In an argument with a reporter, he commented, “I can post whatever I want. This is a public platform. Did I do something illegal? did i hurt someone Did I say I hate a certain group of people?” He said in a statement that he didn’t mean to hurt feelings, but he wasn’t an anti-Semite either. He has since deleted the tweet.
Now Irving got the receipt from the fans in the second game against the Pacers, which the Nets won this time 116:109. Not only through the T-shirt campaign of a few, but also through media-effective criticism. Season ticket holder Aaron Jungreis chose clear words to “ESPN”: “I hope he realizes how much anti-Semitism he is fueling by posting a link to a film like this.” Jungreis described the film as “extremely anti-Jewish”.
With the protest, the fan group wanted to “show love. We’re still Nets fans and we love the team, but they should correct Kyrie because he’s full of hate.” The club has done too little so far. “We were of the opinion that the Nets did not condemn an anti-Semite in their ranks,” Jungreis said. He called for Irving’s suspension and hopes he will come to his senses.
Whether he gets through to Irving with his words remains more than questionable. The native Australian had repeatedly come up with crude statements. He refused vaccination against the corona virus and therefore missed large parts of the preseason. “I stand for freedom in all facets of my life,” Irving said last season. Nobody can enslave him and tell him what to do.
He could not be reached for a new statement after Monday night’s game. Instead, coach Steve Nash faced the media. “We’re trying to come out of this in a better position and with more understanding, more empathy for each side of the debate,” he said.