Kyrie Irving’s Insincere Return Reveals a Glaring Double Standard In The NBA


In the beginning of November, Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving made a tweet in support of a documentary that made anti-semetic remarks and arrived at false conclusions regarding the Holocaust. As is expected when a controversial tweet comes from such a prominent figure, both the NBA and media immediately jumped to address the matter. Originally, Irving refused to apologize or even acknowledge any faults with the film he promoted. This reluctancy prompted the NBA and Nets to collaborate on a pathway for his return. This pathway included an indefinite suspension of at least five games until Irving complied in a public apology, met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, attended sensitivity training sessions, and donated $500,000 dollars to anti-hate causes. The Nets recently announced that Irving would play for the first time since the suspension on Sunday night against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 20th. 

A first glance at his plan for returning reveals the NBA’s wanting to educate Irving and cause him to understand his actions; however, a closer look as to how it unfolded and the manner in which Irving seemingly checked each box off of his ‘Get Back to Playing List’ raises questions regarding the point guard’s sincerity. The discussions that took place during the behind-the-scenes meetings held between Irving and the NBA remain shrouded in secrecy; nevertheless, his public apologies are accessible. Beginning by immediately refusing to apologize – not only through social media, but also in a media session that was set up for him to do so – sent a loud and clear message that he felt no remorse. Despite this behavior, when the suspension without pay came into the picture Irving was quick to make an Instagram apology post. This post did not feel personal at all, instead relaying what he thought would make people forgive his actions. The main issue with the post was that although Irving took, “full accountability and responsibility” for his actions, he never clearly stated that he is not anti-semetic, nor did he explain the motivation for the tweet. Instead, he focused more on apologizing for the consequences of the tweet instead of the content of the tweet itself. After all, this change should have been the final goal of the NBA in all of their efforts – it was not. This incongruence frames the NBA in a similar light as they too were more focused on the optics rather than the true moral development of a player in their league. Both the NBA and Nets knew that people would see this apology as inadequate. Irving got yet another chance for redemption when he stated, “I don’t have hate in my heart for the Jewish people,” in an interview with SNY. This was seemingly the final step towards his return as it was released November 19th. Irving at the bare minimum admitted that he is not anti-semetic, but that only means so much when there was no explanation for the origin of the tweet. Nonetheless, after multiple failed attempts Irving finally made an apology that fit the minimum criteria to check off his final box. It is evident that all the NBA wanted was to resolve the situation as fast as possible so that their top point guard could return without delay or public distress. Now the NBA wants everyone to simply move on from the matter.

This result rests in stark contrast to a separate anti-semetic incident in the NBA that took place back in 2021. Meyers Leonard, at the time an essential forward for the Miami Heat, had just come off of his best year averaging around six points and five rebounds per game. His impact proved to be present beyond the stat sheet as he played 20 minutes per game during this 2019-2020 season. However, the following season he had a season ending ankle injury. To pass the time during his rehab, Leonard started to stream video games on Twitch live with his own commentary. One stream’s commentary included the use of an anti-semetic slur. Similar to the immediate aftermath of Irving’s tweet, the clip of Leonard’s word choice went viral. Right away, the NBA fined Leonard $50,000. He was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and released by them right away, and has not been seen in the league since. Some choose to claim his ankle injury as the main reason for absence, but the timing of the release relative to his remark are too convenient for that to be true. Unlike Irving however, Leonard made a voluntary apology. Considering that nobody urged him to do so, it makes sense that it was far more sincere than Irving’s. Leonard explained the context for using the slur by stating he had, “ignorance about its history and how effective it is to the Jewish community… I was just wrong.” Leonard established his wrongdoing, ignorance, and remorse in this statement alone. Not to mention this is only one piece of a larger explanation that was posted on his Instagram. In spite of this he has not been on an NBA roster since, and his name has not circulated the NBA community for a very long time. 

The main difference between the two players is that for the majority of his career Irving has been a fan favorite and one of the most successful point guards of the past decade while Leonard has been a solid role player for contending teams but has not received much attention otherwise. Hence it is logical that the less-than-a-month suspension Irving received is a far more lenient punishment compared to Leonard’s being squeezed out of the NBA. It is clear that the NBA would sacrifice far more revenue with a Kyrie absence, making them more willing to lose a player of less monetary value.

Should players who make these choices even return to the NBA? In my personal opinion, players who voice these hateful opinions and do not grow from their choices in a healthy, extensive manner have no place in the league regardless of their public relevance. For society to grow as a whole, not tolerating those clearly unwilling to grow must be put first. A player’s mistake that is immediately acknowledged and understood should be evaluated accordingly and eventually granted forgiveness. This allows for true moral growth that is essential in cultivating a better world. NBA players wield the privilege of public influence in the spotlight that they enjoy, which is why the content that they espouse demands active responsibility and accountability. Regardless of one’s stance on these disciplinary actions, the NBA’s double standard is unacceptable, and it must adopt consistent policy before an improved one can transpire.