The Nets have officially upgraded the suspended Kyrie Irving to questionable for Sunday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
There have been multiple reports that Irving, who hasn’t played since Nov. 1, will return for the Grizzlies game. On Friday, coach Jacque Vaughn said there had been “some positive synergy and progress toward him returning.”
At 5 p.m. Saturday, the Nets released an injury report that read “Irving (team suspension) questionable,” possibly indicating that something else needed to happen in order for their seven-time All-Star guard to get back on the floor.
Irving has missed eight straight games since 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 whether he is antisemitic. Hours after the Nets announced his suspension, Irving issued an apology on social media.
On Saturday afternoon, Irving again apologized to the Jewish community in an interview with Ian Begley of SNY.
“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. “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.”
As part of the suspension, the Nets laid out a multistep plan that Irving needed to complete before returning to the team. Those steps reportedly include apologizing, making a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes, attending sensitivity training, attending antisemitic training, meeting with local Jewish leaders and meeting with team owner Joe Tsai.
Tsai and NBA commissioner Adam Silver have met with Irving and issued statements via Twitter that they don’t believe he is antisemitic.
Irving said in his interview with SNY that in his news conferences before the suspension, he reacted emotionally to being labeled antisemitic.
“I felt like I was protecting my character and I reacted out of just pure defense and just hurt that I could be labeled, or I thought that I was being labeled as antisemitic or anti-Jewish, and I’ve felt like that was just so disrespectful to ask me whether or not I was antisemitic or not,” he said. “Now to the outside world, that may have been seen as a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Which rightfully so, it should’ve been, ‘No, I’m not antisemitic. No, I’m not anti-Jewish.’
“I’m a person who believes we should all have equal opportunities and that we should all shower each other with love, and that should be at the forefront.
“But it wasn’t in that initial conversation, and I take my accountability and I want to apologize for that, because it came off the wrong way completely.”
Irving’s last game for the Nets was a loss to the Bulls on Nov. 1 that dropped the team’s record to 2-6. A group of eight fans wore “fight antisemitism” shirts to the game and sat in the front row. Irving scored only four points in the game and shot 2-for-12.
In his absence, the Nets have begun to stabilize, winning five of eight games. The Nets’ most recent game, a 109-107 win over an elite Trail Blazers team, was their best of the season. The Nets had six players in double figures and Ben Simmons had his first triple-double of the season.
Irving has played only one game under Vaughn, who took over for Steve Nash one game before Irving was suspended. The team he returns to is playing defense at a more intense level and is coming together offensively. Kevin Durant, however, doesn’t think it will take Irving long to get back up to speed.
“We’re playing a different brand of basketball than we were when he last played,” Durant said. “So I know Coach is looking forward to adding another weapon in our offense, and he’s been drawing up some amazing plays for us. So I know he’s got some more stuff up his sleeve for Ky.”