On Monday, another divorce between a big-name shoe brand and a high-profile celebrity took place. Nike has cut ties with Brooklyn Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving after he posted an antisemitic video. The athletic wear giant suspended its contract with Irving over a month ago and stated that it would not release the latest Kyrie 8 model of his sneakers.
Kyrie Irving tweeted an Amazon link to an antisemitic documentary which prompted strong responses from the Nets organization, Nets owner Joe Tsai, the NBA and Nike. Irving denied that sharing the film was the same as promoting its content. He also attempted to clarify his viewpoint while denying antisemitism, but he did not issue a formal apology.
The 2018 film Irving shared is called Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America and is based on a book by the same name. According to Rolling Stone magazine, the film is “stuffed with antisemitic tropes.” The book and film accuse certain famous Jews as having admitted to worshiping Satan or Lucifer.
The day after the initial tweet that sparked Nike’s reaction, Irving returned to Twitter to say that he “meant no disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs.” He identified himself as an Omnist, or someone who believes in all religions. The Oxford English Dictionary says an Omnist believes in “a single transcendent purpose or cause uniting all things or people.”
Amazon’s description of the three-hour documentary claims that it is based on research, but fails to mention that much of that has been debunked. “The movie Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America uncovers the true identity of the Children of Israel by proving the true ethnicity of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the Sons of Ham, Shem & Japheth. Find out what Islam, Judaism and Christianity has covered up for centuries in regards to the true biblical identity of the so-called ‘Negro’ in this movie packed with tons of research.”
On November 4, Nike made its first announcement that it would be suspending connections with Irving, effective immediately. They stated a company belief that condemns all forms of hate speech, including antisemitism. Nike also expressed sadness and disappointment over the situation after having been in contract with Irving since 2014.
The next day, the Nets issued a list of requirements Irving would have to meet to be reinstated from the “no less than five games” suspension they issued on November 3. The suspension was without pay. The six requirements included apologizing and condemning the movie, donating $500,000 to anti-hate causes, meeting with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Jewish leaders, meeting with Joe Tsai to demonstrate his understanding of the situation, and attending both sensitivity and antisemitic training.
The Nets organization also promised to donate $500,000 toward organizations and causes that fight against hate and intolerance. Nike founder Phil Knight did an interview with CNBC during which he stated that he felt Irving stepped over the line. “It’s kind of that simple…he made some statements that we just can’t abide by and that’s why we ended the relationship.”
Irving finally issued an apology on his Instagram page, and soon after, gave a rambling statement to reporters. In it, he said he felt it was necessary to take accountability for his actions and denied standing for anything resembling hate speech or “anything that is going against the human race.” He also indicated that he could’ve handled the situation better.
Although the cut with Nike seems permanent, Irving was able to return to playing basketball on November 20. He ended up missing eight games without pay during his NBA suspension. Rapper Kanye West, now known as “Ye” was dropped from Adidas and Gap earlier this year after making antisemitic comments of his own.