Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who offered “deep apologies” for posting a link to an antisemitic film, was expected to play in the Nets’ game Sunday night after a suspension that lasted eight games.
“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,” Irving told reporters Sunday in his first news conference since he was suspended on Nov. 3.
“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. I feel like we all should have an opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are assumed about us.”
The news conference was attended by the Nets’ general manager, Sean Marks, who said that Irving was expected to take the floor Sunday night at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. Shetellia Riley Irving, Irving’s stepmother and agent, and Tamika Tremaglio, the executive director of the players’ union, were also in attendance, as well as a representative from the N.B.A. Irving took four questions during the news conference, which lasted roughly 13 minutes.
“I’m grateful we all could share space today because this is a moment in history that I’m going to remember forever,” Irving said before taking the first question. “Just because of the impact that all this has made on our world, cultures — not only just here in America, but abroad. Right now, we’re just here to really take this effort to make a more equal world.”
Irving, 30, told reporters that he was “rightfully defensive” in his earlier news conferences discussing the film he posted on Twitter on Oct. 27. The 2018 film, hosted by Amazon, is called “Hebrew to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” and is driven by antisemitic tropes, including false assertions about the Holocaust. Irving’s tweet was eventually deleted. In two news conferences after the post, Irving declined to apologize and did not disavow antisemitism or the movie itself — which led to widespread outrage and eventually his suspension. Irving has missed eight games. He also lost a shoe deal with Nike.
“I was rightfully defensive that there was an assumption that I could be antisemitic or that I meant to post the documentary to stand side by side with all the views of the documentary,” Irving said. “I was defensive initially. You know, how can you call someone antisemite when you don’t know them? How can you call their family out on things that we don’t have a track record of? I have no track record of anything like that.”
He added, “When you’re dealing with that emotion, I think you’ve got to let it out. And I did. And there were some things that were misinterpreted and misunderstood in those comments and those other press conferences. All I was meaning to say is that I stand strong with the people I come from.”
Irving was also critical of a reported list of six demands the Nets had laid out as conditions for his return. That list, reported by The Athletic, included requirements that Irving meet with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and complete sensitivity training. The Nets have not publicly confirmed the list. Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, a vice president on the union’s executive committee, suggested in an interview published earlier this month that the union would appeal the suspension after the list was reported. Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the A.D.L., told The Times on Thursday that he had not met with Irving, though he hoped to. Irving said he had met with “different people within the Jewish community,” but he did not specify whom.
“Let’s clarify the list just because I think it was inappropriate the way it was released in the way that it somehow pinnned me in the corner, as if I was guilty of something and as if I was, you know, this antisemitic person, this label that was placed on me,” Irving said.
Asked what he thought of one of the central claims of the film, which is the false trope that Black people are the original Israelites, Irving said, “That was the intent when I was watching the movie was to have a deeper understanding of my family heritage and where I come from. And when I said I meant no harm, I meant that.”
“Where all this started from, it was legitimately to learn about what anti-blackness was,” Irving added. “And it led me to a documentary that ended up exploring and opening my mind to more than than I could put in the words right now.”