By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
Nike has suspended its relationship with Kyrie Irving and canceled plans to release his next signature shoe, the latest chapter in the ongoing spinoff since the Brooklyn Nets guard tweeted a link to a movie containing anti-Semitic material.
The footwear giant announced Friday night that it would end its relationship with Irving, who was suspended by the Nets for what the team called a repeated failure to “say unequivocally that he has no anti-Semitic belief”.
The Nets made that decision on Thursday, banning Irving without pay for at least five games, and a day later Nike made its decision. The actions followed widespread criticism – from, among others, the Anti-Defamation League and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn all forms of anti-Semitism,” the Beaverton, Oregon-based company said. “To that end, we have made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving with immediate effect and to no longer launch the Kyrie 8.”
Irving has had a signature line with Nike since 2014.
“We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone,” Nike said.
Irving signed with Nike in 2011, shortly after becoming the first pick in the NBA Draft that year. Irving’s first signature shoe came out three years later, and the popularity of the Kyrie line saw him earn $11 million a year just from Nike’s endorsement.
The Kyrie 8 was due out next week. The previous models of his shoes were still on sale on the Nike site on Friday evening.
Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, who won a title alongside Irving when they were Cleveland teammates in 2016, said his position was simple: hate speech, in any form, cannot be tolerated.
“There’s no place in this world for that,” James said. “Nobody can benefit from that and I think what Kyrie did hurt a lot of people.”
James, who has been with Nike for his entire 20-season NBA career, said he still had a big crush on Irving.
“As humans, none of us are perfect,” James said. “But I hope he understands how what he did and the actions he took hurt a lot of people.”
Irving posted a tweet — which has since been deleted — last week with a link to the documentary “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which includes Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories about Jews. In a controversial post-game interview last Saturday, Irving defended his right to post whatever he wants.
The fallout only continued from there. The NBA released a statement over the weekend that did not name Irving but denounced all forms of hate speech. Fans wearing “Fight Antisemitism” shirts took courtside seats during the Brooklyn-Indiana game on Monday night, a day after the tweet was deleted. The Nets and coach Steve Nash parted ways Tuesday, a development that has been overshadowed by the Irving saga.
On Wednesday, Irving said he opposes all forms of hate, and he and the Nets each announced they would each donate $500,000 to groups working to eradicate it. Silver then released a new statement calling on Irving by name to apologize, and Irving declined to give a direct answer when asked Thursday if he held anti-Semitic beliefs.
It was obviously the last straw for the Nets, who suspended him. Hours later, Irving posted an apology on Instagram for not explaining the specific beliefs he agreed and disagreed with when he posted the documentary.
“To all Jewish families and communities who are hurt and affected by my message, I am deeply sorry for causing you pain and I apologize,” Irving wrote. “I initially reacted out of emotion at being unfairly labeled an anti-Semite, instead of focusing on the process of healing my Jewish brothers and sisters who were hurt by the hateful remarks made in the documentary.”
A day later, Nike – which had also been criticized for not acting faster – took action.
Irving becomes the second celebrity in less than two weeks to lose a major shoe deal because of anti-Semitism. Adidas parted ways with Ye – the artist formerly known as Kanye West – late last month, a move the German company said would result in losses of around $250 million this year after the halting production of its Yeezy product line as well as halting payments to Ye and his companies.
For weeks, Ye has made anti-Semitic comments in interviews and on social media, including a post on Twitter that he will soon be making “Death Con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” an apparent reference to the scale of conditions. of American defense readiness known as DEFCON.
Irving has had no shortage of controversial opinions throughout his career. He repeatedly asked if the Earth was round before finally apologizing to the science teachers. Last year, his refusal to get a COVID-19 shot resulted in him being banned from playing in most Nets home games.
The Nets played in Washington on Friday, winning 128-86 without Irving. The 42-point victory is the fourth most in Nets franchise history.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said earlier Friday that Irving’s apology was a step forward, but many more steps will be needed before he can return to play.
“There are going to be corrective measures and measures that have been put in place for him to obviously seek guidance…in dealing with some anti-hate and some Jewish leaders within our community,” Marks said. “He’s going to have to sit with them, he’s going to have to sit with the organization after that, and we’ll assess and see if it’s the right opportunity to bring him back.”
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