Opinion | Why the Nets need to get rid of Kyrie Irving

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NEW YORK — As a long-suffering basketball fan in the Big Apple, I was excited in June 2019 by the Brooklyn Nets signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two of the best players on the planet. My anticipation only grew in January 2021 when the team added James Harden, a three-time NBA scoring champion, creating what was hailed as a “superteam.” I would still root for the Knicks — a franchise that last won the championship when Richard M. Nixon was in the White House — but now I also had a legitimate contender to support. It was a dream come true that has turned into a never-ending nightmare.

Irving refused to get vaccinated for covid-19 and missed more than half of the 2021-2022 season because New York regulations prohibited him from playing home games. Harden got fed up with the team’s lackadaisical play and got traded to Philadelphia in February. Off to an abysmal start this season, the team pushed the panic button and fired Steve Nash as coach.

The Nets can’t seem to do anything right. They got rid of the wrong guy. They should have jettisoned Irving, not Nash.

The star point guard has exquisite sense on the basketball court but no sense off the court. In 2017, he declared that “the Earth is flat” while claiming that “they lie to us.” (Who is “they”? An international conspiracy of astronomers?)

Embracing flat-earthism might seem like a harmless eccentricity, but Irving’s rejection of science became a lot less amusing when he refused to get vaccinated. He imperiled his health, his team’s health and his club’s chances of winning.

Irving claimed to be “standing for freedom.” The freedom to infect others with a deadly disease? Rolling Stone reported that he had “started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that ‘secret societies’ are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for ‘a plan of Satan.’ ”

Unfortunately, Irving remains a devotee of wacky conspiracy theories. In September, he tweeted a video by Alex Jones, the notoriously dishonest radio host who has been ordered to pay a judgment of nearly $1 billion to families of the Sandy Hook victims after claiming that the mass shooting was a hoax.

Then, on Oct. 27, Irving posted a link on both Twitter (where he has 4.6 million followers) and Instagram (17.6 million) to “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” a movie full of outrageous antisemitic falsehoods. The Anti-Defamation League notes that it includes “claims of a global Jewish conspiracy to oppress and defraud Black people, allegations that Jews are in part responsible for the transatlantic slave trade and the claim that Jews falsified the history of the Holocaust to ‘conceal their nature and protect their status and power.’ ” To expose the “true” nature of the Jewish people, the film cites passages from Henry Ford’s notorious antisemitic screed “The International Jew” and two fabricated quotes from Adolf Hitler.

This is weapons-grade insanity that will endanger Jews at a time when antisemitism is already on the rise. It is all the more offensive coming from a star player for an NBA team in the New York metropolitan area, which has more Jewish residents than any city in the world next to Tel Aviv. Talk about alienating your fan base. I’m one of those Jewish NBA fans who won’t be watching Nets games — and certainly won’t be buying tickets at Barclays Center — while Irving is part of the team.

Irving only compounded his offensiveness by refusing to apologize when given multiple opportunities to do so. “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” he said repeatedly. Apparently that’s a reference to the conspiracy theory propounded by a sect called the Black Hebrew Israelites, who claim that Black people are the true descendants of the ancient tribes of Israel and modern-day Jews are impostors with no claim to the Holy Land.

Finally, on Thursday night, after the Nets suspended him without pay for at least five games, Irving issued a belated apology on Instagram. Yet even while regretting the “pain” he had caused, he also wrote: “I want to clarify any confusion on where I stand fighting against Anti- semticism by apologizing for posting the documentary without context and a factual explanation outlining the specific beliefs in the Documentary I agreed with and disagreed with.”

That implies there are still parts of “Hebrews to Negroes” that he agrees with. Which parts, pray tell? There is not a single nugget of fact in this cesspool of bigotry and fantasy.

What on (flat) earth will Irving say next? I don’t know, and neither do the Nets. They need to cut their losses and let him go. They might win more games without all of his nonsense and distractions. Even if they don’t, they will regain a measure of self-respect and fan loyalty. Until that happens, I’m back to rooting exclusively for the Knicks. They may not win the title, but nor are they likely to shame our city.




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