Nike suspends relationship with Kyrie Irving amid antisemitism scandal
'We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation,' says shoe giant
Nike has suspended its relationship with Kyrie Irving and cancelled its plans to release his next signature shoe, the latest chapter in the ongoing fallout since the Brooklyn Nets guard tweeted a link to a film containing antisemitic material.
The shoe giant announced Friday night that it will halt its relationship with Irving, one day after he was suspended by the Nets for what the team called a repeated failure to "unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs."
Those actions followed widespread criticism from, among many others, the Anti-Defamation League and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
"At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism," the Beaverton, Ore.-based company said. "To that end, we've made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8."
"We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone."
Irving signed with Nike in 2011, shortly after becoming the No. 1 pick in that year's NBA draft. Irving's first signature shoe was released three years later, and the popularity of the Kyrie line led to him making a reported $11 million US annually just from the Nike endorsement.
The Kyrie 8 was expected to be released in the next week. Previous models of his shoes were still for sale on the Nike website Friday night.
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 contentious postgame interview session last Saturday, Irving defended his right to post what he wants.
The fallout only continued from there. The NBA put out a statement over the weekend that didn't name Irving but denounced all forms of hate speech. Fans wearing "Fight Antisemitism" shirts occupied some courtside seats at the Brooklyn-Indiana game on Monday night, a day after he took down the tweet.
'I am deeply sorry'
Irving on Wednesday said he opposes all forms of hate, and he and the Nets each announced that they would each donate $500,000 toward groups that work to eradicate it.
Silver then issued a new statement calling on Irving by name to apologize, and Irving refused to give a direct answer when asked Thursday if he has antisemitic beliefs.
Later on Thursday, a few hours after he was suspended for at least five games, Irving posted an apology on Instagram for not explaining the specific beliefs he agreed and disagreed with when he posted the documentary.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver statement on Kyrie Irving: “…I am disappointed that he has not offered an unqualified apology… I will be meeting with Kyrie in person in the next week to discuss this situation.” <a href="https://t.co/9u1Y2j2jBw">pic.twitter.com/9u1Y2j2jBw</a>—@ShamsCharania
"To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize," Irving wrote.
"I initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labelled Anti-Semitic, instead of focusing on the healing process of my Jewish Brothers and Sisters that were hurt from the hateful remarks made in the Documentary."
Irving becomes the second prominent celebrity in less than two weeks to lose a major shoe deal over antisemitism. Adidas was forced to part ways with Ye — the rapper formerly known as Kanye West — late last month, a move the German company said would result in about $250 million US in losses this year after stopping production of its line of Yeezy products as well as halting payments to Ye and his companies.
For weeks, Ye made antisemitic comments in interviews and on social media, including a Twitter post that he would soon go "death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE," an apparent reference to the five-level U.S. defence readiness condition scale known as DEFCON.
Irving has expressed no shortage of controversial opinions during his career. He repeatedly questioned whether the Earth was round before eventually apologizing to science teachers. Last year, his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine led to him being banned from playing in most of the Nets' home games.
The Nets played at Washington on Friday, winning 128-86 without Irving. The 42-point win matched the fourth-largest in Nets franchise history.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said earlier Friday that Irving's apology was a step forward, but many other steps will be required before he can resume playing.
"There is going to be some remedial steps and measures that have been put in place for him to obviously seek some counselling ... from dealing with some anti-hate and some Jewish leaders within our community," Marks said. "He's going to have to sit down with them, he's going to have to sit down with the organization after this, and we'll evaluate and see if this is the right opportunity to bring him back."
The Nets and coach Steve Nash parted ways Tuesday, a development that has been overshadowed by the Irving saga.