For the second time, Kyrie Irving said sorry.
The Nets will welcome their star point guard back. Will their fan base do the same?
After eight missed games and six reported self-improvement tasks that he apparently completed, Irving’s suspension appears lifted. Irving is expected to play in Sunday’s game against the Grizzlies, and he issued a second apology on the eve of his return.
“I really want to focus on the hurt that I caused or the impact that I made within the Jewish community. Putting some type of threat, or assumed threat, on the Jewish community,” Irving told SNY on Saturday. “I just want to apologize deeply for all my actions throughout the time that it’s been since the post was first put up. I’ve had a lot of time to think. But my focus, initially, if I could do it over, would be to heal and repair a lot of my close relationships with my Jewish relatives, brothers and sisters.”
Irving earned his indefinite ban after sharing, on social media, a movie that contains anti-Semitic tropes, including questioning the Holocaust. He refused initially to apologize or outright state he holds no anti-Semitic beliefs, which prompted the team’s suspension on Nov. 3 and led to a belated first apology from Irving on Instagram.
In January 2021, Nets fans cheered after he returned from a seven-game absence, which he said stemmed from personal reasons. The fans loudly cheered in welcoming back Irving last season on March 27, when he played his first game at Barclays Center after missing the entire slate of home games because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Will the Brooklyn fans continue to support a player who, over the past few weeks, had to meet with several high-profile individuals essentially to prove he does not hold anti-Semitic beliefs?
“I can’t imagine [the fan response will] be that bad honestly,” said Doug Bearak, a member of the Brooklyn Brigade – a loud fan section – and a super-fan who rarely misses a game, having attended the loss to the Bulls that preceded Irving’s ban. “There were some boos, but not a lot. I don’t want to say it’s down the middle – I want to say more fans are excited to see him.”
“There were some fans [at the game] that were saying, ‘F–k Kyrie,’” said another member of the Brigade, Dawn Risueño, who expects the fans to be kinder this time. “I think the majority are probably going to cheer him. Most of us, we don’t boo unless you’re on the other side.”
But for Bearak and Risueño, who are both Jewish, the personal decision whether to support Irving will be more nuanced.
If Irving were trying to inspire conversation by sharing the movie, he certainly did so. Bearak said there have been plenty of talks about Irving and his actions within his friend groups and family, and he has “family members who aren’t into sports who are done with him.”
“I still respect him as a player. I still respect him as a philanthropist,” said Bearak, who pinpointed Irving’s elusiveness – he shared the movie without comment or context, without stating which views he agreed with and which he denounced – as particularly troubling. “Whether or not his intent is malicious or not, [he has] such a strong following that unless [he is] clear, it’s hard.
The 54-year-old Risueño grew up in Cobble Hill, where she said it was difficult in the ’70s to be Jewish. The Irving saga – and the increasing numbers of anti-Semitic incidents around the country – are reminding her of her childhood.
“[Being Jewish] was just something back then that you didn’t publicize very much because of the times,” Risueño said.
The Nets issued six steps for Irving, whom they called “unfit” to be associated with the organization, to take before he could step on the floor again. Irving met with team owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, commissioner Adam Silver and reportedly members of the Jewish community.
Those conversations, Irving told SNY, were “a learning journey, to be honest with you.”
“It was a lot of hurt that needed to be healed, a lot of conversations that needed to be had. And a lot of reflection,” Irving told the outlet.
It is unclear whether Irving will speak to reporters before the game or speak to fans directly at Barclays Center. It is also unknown whether members of a Black Hebrew Israelite group, who protested Irving’s suspension, will be back outside the arena. Messages to the group went unanswered.
And most unclear is Irving’s future with the team, which will have to weigh both his unreliability and his relationship with his fans.
“I don’t stand for any hate speech, I don’t stand for racial prejudices or racial discrimination, and I for sure don’t stand for any religious hatred against any groups,” Irving told SNY. “I don’t want to bring any harm to any community, I only want to bring more light and peace to our world. In order to do that, you need to come through some moments that maybe [are] challenging and testing.”