Kyrie Irving The Complicated Story behind his Suspension


Kyrie Irving playing for the Brooklyn Nets

Kyrie Irving has faced backlash on numerous occasions regarding his stance on certain current events. Throughout his career with the NBA, he has made questionable remarks, from questioning the earth’s true shape to his vague beliefs that have been deemed antisemitic. Currently, a point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, the 30-year-old pro basketball player, has been suspended for a minimum of five games, without pay. This follows weeks of controversy after the star posted an Amazon link on Instagram to the film Hebrews to Negroes, a documentary that centers around Black Hebrew Israelites’ (BHI) views. Irving posted the link, without a caption on Oct. 27. Soon after, in a press conference on Nov. 3, he addresses the media. When asked, “Do you have anti-Semitic beliefs?” Irving refused to give a clear answer and instead he repeatedly responded, “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” stating that he, himself is a descendant of biblical Jews, therefore Semitic. In his statement, he refers to the idea that many black Americans and POC are the true descendants of the Israelites mentioned in the bible.


What is the film From Hebrews to Negros about?

Released in 2018, the documentary directed by Ronald Dalton Jr. is based on a novel he published in 2014, and is the source of the recent controversy. The film attempts to prove that many black Americans and some people of color are the true descendants of the Israelites mentioned in the bible. The documentary is based on BHI similar to these. The main point of discussion, however, is the anti-Semitic beliefs and false information portrayed in the film. The film claims that Jews stole black heritage, conspires that the Jewish faith is meant to subjugate and oppress black people, and claims that Jews were responsible for the transatlantic slave trade. The documentary also described how the Holocaust was made up in order to “… conceal their [Jewish people’s] nature and protect their status and power.” 


In the NBA press conference on Nov. 3, Irving explained that as a person of color in America, he faces constant struggle with tracing his ancestry and racism faced on the daily, and hints at his hopes to uncover the truth about his “familial history.” For many African Americans, there is a familiar struggle amongst understanding their identity and tracing their lineage back to slave ancestry.  For many, what is known as “The 1870 Brick Wall”, was the first census that listed freed African Americans by name, rather than prior counts, which only listed their  age and gender. This makes it a challenge for many to uncover their ancestry. Irving states:

“I’ve been growing up in a country that’s told me I wasn’t worth anything, and I come from a slave class … I’m not here to compare anyones atrocities … just here to continue to expose things that our world continues to put in darkness.” 


Irving’s statement, “I can’t be anti-Semitic if I know where I came from,” has been regarded as vague and unclear by the public, however, Irving speaks from a perspective that he himself is Semitic, a word that is broad, and encompasses a wider population of people than typically thought of. 


Irving explains in post game interview on Oct. 29, a few days prior that “… it’s not about educating yourself on what Semitism is, [or] what anti-Semitism is, [but] it’s really about learning the root words of where these come from and understanding that this is an African Heritage that is also belonging to the people Africa…whether we…dismiss it or not so the claims of anti-Semitism and who are the original chosen people of God and we go into these religious conversations and it’s a big No … I don’t live my life that way.” 

Oxford Dictionary’s definition of Semitic is:




relating to or denoting a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic and certain ancient languages such as Phoenician and Akkadian, constituting the main subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic family. 

relating to the peoples who speak Semitic languages, especially Hebrew and Arabic. 






relating to or denoting a family of languages spoken in the Middle East and North Africa. They can be divided into five groups: Semitic, Omotic, Berber, Cushitic, and Chadic. Ancient Egyptian was also a member of this family. Also called Hamito-Semitic. 


Despite self-designating himself as a “beacon of light,” Irving’s press conference created more confusion and public outrage . On Nov. 3 Irving was suspended for a minimum of five games and the following day Nike suspended their relationship with the guard. The decision was accompanied by the statement, “At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism.” The release of the new Kyrie 8 sneaker, meant to come out on Nov. 8, has been scratched. 


Following his suspension, the guard issued an apology, along with an offer of $500,000 to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), on Nov. 3. ADL is an organization that fights Anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. ADL, however, refused Irving’s offer of the $500,000, as they could not “… in good conscience accept his donation.” 


Later that same day, Irving posted a lengthy apology on his Instagram stating, “While doing research on YHWH,”  Yahweh is the name for the God of the Israelites, (pronounced in the bible as YHWH), and the Hebrew translation of Irving´s name, “I posted a Documentary that contained some false anti-Semitic statements, narratives, and language that were untrue and offensive to the Jewish Race/Religion, and I take full accountability and responsibility for my actions,” he ends with, “I had no intentions to disrespect any Jewish cultural history regarding the Holocaust or perpetuate any hate. I am learning from this unfortunate event and hope we can find understanding between us all. I am no different than any other human being. I am a seeker of truth and knowledge, and I know who I am.” 

It doesn’t seem like Irving will be back anytime soon but before he is able to play again for the Nets he has to complete six steps, which Shams Charania, Senior lead NBA Insider for The Athletic and Stadium, lists on his Twitter:

– Apologize/condemn movie

– $500K donation to anti-hate causes

– Sensitivity training

– Antisemitic training

– Meet with ADL, Jewish leaders

– Meet with Joe Tsai to demonstrate understanding


Kyrie has completed these tasks and is set to return to play on Sunday, Nov. 20. 


Overall the media seems to represent a very one-sided stance, reporting on Irving´s actions using the title “anti-Semitic,”  though many people on public forums such as YouTube and Instagram seem to have a different perspective. One YouTube user commented, “HE’S DONE NOTHING WRONG..NO ONE WAS HURT ON WHAT HE SAID..THIS MAN HAS A GREAT STORY TO TELL..LISTEN..GOD BLESS HIM” (Quantum Leaper). 

Another, on Instagram notes the lack of freedom of speech and oppression of black voices that many see Irving’s situation demonstrates, “I hate that in the society we live in…Black people are always “needing” to apologize for our higher learning. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sharing information…even we don’t agree with something…having knowledge about it makes us aware and informed! I don’t understand why only White and Jewish people can be offended by everything when it comes to what black people are doing or saying. The documentary on Amazon…is anyone asking Jeff Bezos why he has allowed it on Amazon??? Of course not. Freedom of speech is only available to white people and Jewish peopple and that’s circus behavior. Kyrie I know you are a public figure but thank you for being who you are and we appreciate your willingness to be mindful and knowledgeable.” (bombshell_galore). 

Some, like the users above, think that Irving has no need to apologize for something that he didn´t create and validate his journey to uncover his history. Others like this Instagram user said,


“F**k apologizing this our mf land until they understand who the f**k we are they can kiss our as*…I like keep up the good work but be safe I’m with you and Ye”


References to Kanye (Now “Ye”) West following his recent bouts of antisemitism and comments like these are unsettling for some, especially after the spikes in antisemitic actions in LA, following his statements. While Irving´s post may not have harmed anyone, public figures with platforms like his have a ton of leverage that can affect the public and the actions of fans and supporters. 


In an interview with PBS in the spring of 2022, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of ADL, expressed this worry stating, “When you have people make wild claims about the Jewish state, make unhinged accusations, maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that then people attack Jewish Americans here at home … we need people in positions of authority to kind of dial down the rhetoric, to realize that words have consequences, and to be a bit more responsible.”  Irving himself made no such claims, however, the documentary made the public question his beliefs. 


With this in mind, the anti-Semitic label forced on Irving may not be justified. Still, amidst a time where Anti-Semitic hate crimes are on the rise, public figures are under an extra level of scrutiny. According to ADL, there were 2,717 antisemitic incidents  in 2021, this number being an increase of 34 percent from the numbers in 2020. Assaults themselves increased by 67 percent. Though, Irving acknowledged that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone by sharing the film, and in a tweet from Irving, he refers to himself as an Omnist, and calls the “anti-Semitic” label that was forced on him “unjust.” Even so, the false content portrayed in the film can be a dangerous thing to share as a public figure when many people look toward you as a model. 

The path to uncovering the truth is a complicated one, which is why in these instances it is so challenging to pick apart who is right and who is wrong. Like Irving says “I am” (we all are) “… a human being learning from all walks of life and I intend to do so with an open mind and a willingness to listen.” The truth will come with the ability to learn from others with open-mindedness. 


Irving is expected to resume play with the Nets on Nov. 20. Teammate, Kevin Durant says this of Irving’s return, “We miss Ky, we miss his presence out there on the floor. Hopefully, it’s soon. I haven’t talked to him since we’re on this road trip … the last couple of days. But looking forward to his return to the team, and definitely going to give us a much-needed spark.”