Kyrie Irving, by refusing to say “no” Thursday when asked whether or not he is antisemitic, has finally answered the question.
Which means someone — the league, his team, a teammate like Kevin Durant to whom perhaps he’ll listen — has to act. Kyrie’s refusal to denounce antisemitism is unacceptable, and someone needs to step in.
The latest ugly turn in an already ugly saga isn’t the two-sides-ism the Brooklyn Nets tried to foist off since Kyrie promoted on his social media last week an antisemitic documentary that, among other things, uses a fraudulent Adolf Hitler quote and trope-filled conspiracy theory to demonize Jewish people.
This isn’t the NBA league office’s much-too-late decision Thursday to release a mealy mouthed statement from commissioner Adam Silver, before Kyrie spoke, in which Silver said he’s “disappointed” in Kyrie.
This isn’t the National Basketball Players Association, of which Kyrie is a vice president, sending out some generic antisemitism-is-bad press release over the weekend without mentioning the obvious: That the need for the statement was a direct result of Kyrie’s actions.
All of these responses were designed to avoid forcefully addressing what Kyrie did, and has done since — cowards flailing at what to do when the answer was obvious: Hold Kyrie Irving accountable.
That shortcoming, that failure from the league, the NBPA, the Nets and Kyrie’s teammates, was brought into stark relief Thursday by Kyrie’s own words, especially the ones he wouldn’t say. They avoided condemning his words, and he, in repayment, bristled at the idea that anyone else should deign to do the same.
“Kyrie,” a reporter asked, “for the record, do you have any antisemitic beliefs?”
The correct answer here, by the way, is “no.”
Kyrie said this instead: “Again, I’m going to repeat: I don’t know how the label becomes justified because you guys ask me the same questions over and over again. But this is not going to turn into a spin around cycle, questions upon questions. I told you guys how I felt. I respect all walks of life and embrace all walks of life. That’s where I sit.”
He was given another chance — he’s had many over the past week — to answer “yes” or “no” to a question about whether or not he’s a bigot, whether or not antisemitism is OK, whether or not bigotry is universally wrong.
A reporter tried again: “On that question, yes or no?”
“I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” Kyrie said.
“What does that mean?” the reporter asked.
“I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”
There’s much to parse here, including the ugly sensation that Kyrie’s response, “I cannot be antisemetic if I know where I come from,” is a not-so-subtle endorsement of one of the messages the antisemitic film he put out there, the one that fake-quoted Hitler, was pushing: That the Jewish people aren’t the Jewish people, a trope as old and hate-filled as antisemitism itself.
This is heady, difficult, important stuff. This kind of bigotry matters, especially from someone with the influence and impact Kyrie commands. Look no further than Twitter mentions from those swayed by his thinking to see the consequences of such talk.
In that labyrinth of difficult truths, there are some absolutes. That antisemitism is wrong. That bigotry does not justify more bigotry. That past work on behalf of real social justice does not justify promoting hatred. And that, asked if one holds antisemitic views, a refusal to say “no” says something very much indeed.
Shame on Kyrie, yes, of course. But shame on the NBA, on the players association, and on the Nets.
Silence has power, too. And Kyrie’s refusal to say the right thing is exactly him saying the wrong thing. As is everyone else’s lukewarm messaging.
So now it’s time for real action.
Don’t look to Kyrie for that, and don’t cite the $500,000 he donated, on top of the same amount from the Nets, that was also announced Thursday for groups that work to end hate.
Buying your way out of a problem might work, but that doesn’t make it right. Writing a check isn’t an apology.
Silver’s statement Thursday before Kyrie spoke noted the commissioner “will be meeting with Kyrie in person in the next week to discuss this situation.”
That’s not enough, and the idea that punishing Kyrie Irving is cancel culture — or unfairly picks on a Black man — is wrong. Those arguments have surfaced over and over as Kyrie has doubled down on this kind of ugliness.
We live in a time where hate has an even firmer hold than before, and when those that spread it have real power in its growth.
NBA, step in.
Brooklyn Nets, find a spine.
NBPA, rediscover your moral compass.
Adam Silver, in that meeting with Kyrie, deliver a solution, not a conversation with someone who thinks they’re beyond, or above, the consequences of the hate they’ve spread and supported.
Surely someone in power in the NBA can find the moral will to sit Kyrie down, look him in the eye, tell him he’s wrong, and produce the kind of fine and suspension that would surely follow anyone less talented at basketball who would dare support such hate.