Hours after an emotional news conference in which he apologized to those who had been hurt by his actions, Kyrie Irving took the Barclays Center court with his teammates for the first time since Nov. 1.
Irving, who scored 14 points in a 127-115 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night, had missed eight straight games after the team suspended him without pay on Nov. 3 in the wake of his linking to an antisemitic film on his Instagram and Twitter accounts on Oct. 27. Between the posting and the suspension, Irving held two news conferences during which he declined to apologize or say if he is antisemitic.
On Sunday morning, in yet another news conference that was attended by the head of the players’ union, Irving’s stepmother/ agent and a representative from the NBA, Irving said he is sorry.
“I just want to offer my deep apologies to all those who are impacted over these last few weeks, specifically my Jewish relatives, my Black relatives, you know, all races and cultures,” he told reporters after the Nets’ shoot-around. “I feel like we all felt the impact. And I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or antisemitism or anything that is anti — going against the human race.”
An hour after the public apology, Irving was upgraded from questionable to available.
“Kyrie took ownership of his journey and had conversations with several members of the Jewish community,” the Nets said in a statement. “We are pleased that he is going about the process in a meaningful way.”
The Nets hope they now can move on from one of the ugliest chapters in franchise history, a chapter that includes many lowlights, including a game in which eight fans sat courtside wearing “Fight Anti-Semitism” T-shirts.
Approximately 200 members of Israel United in Christ rallied outside Barclays Center on Sunday in support of Irving. When asked about the group after the game, Irving declined to comment, saying he wanted to concentrate on the game.
When he was introduced before the game, he was greeted by mostly cheers. “It was great to have him out there,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Tried to see what units was best for him. Played him with the second and the first unit. Just getting the feel of how we’re going to piece this thing together. Great to have him get some minutes out there and for us to get a win while he’s doing it.”
When Irving was suspended, the team issued a news release saying that he was “currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets” and laid out a list of steps Irving had to take in order to rejoin the team. Those steps reportedly included apologizing, making a donation to anti-hate causes, attending sensitivity training, attending antisemitic training, meeting with local Jewish leaders and meeting with team owner Joe Tsai.
Irving’s news conference Sunday morning is believed to have been a condition of his return. He opened with a statement and answered four questions in a news conference that lasted a little more than 12 minutes.
“I feel it was necessary for me to stand in this place and take accountability for my actions, because there was a way I should have handled all this,” Irving said. “And as I look back and reflect, when I had the opportunity to offer my deep regrets to anyone that felt threatened or felt hurt by what I posted, that wasn’t my intent at all. I meant no harm to any person, any group of people.”
Irving said the biggest mistake he made in his previous news conferences was when he was asked if he is antisemitic.
“I should have clarified that I’m not antisemitic,” he said. “ . . . Dealing with different people within the Jewish community has offered me some clarity or a deeper understanding of what is going on and the impact that was made and the hurt that was caused. That’s why I’m here apologizing.”
Vaughn said Irving also addressed his teammates at the morning shootaround.
In Irving’s most recent game, a loss to the Bulls on Nov. 1, he scored four points and shot 2-for-12.
Vaughn said before Sunday’s game: “I have no trepidation that Ky is going to fit in and play extremely hard. He has the ability to push the pace. That gives us another ballhandler. We want him to play with his instincts. That’s what makes him special.”
Irving lost $3.56 million in pay for games he did not play. Nike ended its long association with him and decided not to issue his new shoe, the Kyrie 8. According to an estimate by Sportico, Irving’s contract with Nike was worth $11 million last year.