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Nets guard Kyrie Irving returned to the floor for the first time in 19 days on Sunday, putting up 14 points and five rebounds in Brooklyn’s 127-115 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
While Irving met with reporters after the game and attempted to stay on message about basketball, he also expressed frustration with the criticism he’s received since posting a link to an antisemitic film on his social media pages last month.
“I would like to be on a platform where I could openly share how I feel without being harshly criticized, or being labeled,” Irving told reporters. “Or dealing with outside perceptions that have nothing to do with me.”
Freedom of expression does not mean freedom of consequences. Irving has the right to use his platform to say what he would like, but others likewise have the right to criticize his comments—particularly ones that are potentially damaging.
The All-Star’s anti-vaccination stance drew criticism last season, given COVID-19 vaccines are safe and the most effective method of preventing serious outcomes from the virus. His promotion of a movie that accuses Jewish people of worshipping Satan and weeklong refusal to denounce the messages of the film or even answer a “yes or no” question about whether he’s antisemitic was damaging not only to his own public reputation but to the NBA as a whole.
While Irving has since publicly apologized and denounced some of the messages of the film, he seems to have the desire to speak without consequence. However, his series of questionable public comments—which also include questioning whether the world is round and promoting conspiracy theorist Alex Jones—have led to public skepticism when he speaks.
Irving also refused to denounce Israel United in Christ, a hate group that showed up outside the Barclays Center ahead of Sunday’s game in support of the Nets guard. The group, which “appropriates biblical Jewish heritage to claim an exclusive identity as the true chosen people of God and decry Jews as the impostors and thieves,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, handed out pamphlets titled “The Truth About Anti-Semitism” and “The Truth about Slavery” to passersby before the game.
“I think that’s a conversation for another day,” Irving said. “I’m just here to focus on the game.”
Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown was criticized for supporting the demonstration, though he later clarified he initially believed it was Omega Psi Phi, a historically Black fraternity.
Jaylen Brown @FCHWPO
Irving has raised the possibility of filing a grievance against the Nets for his suspension.
“I got to leave that to my legal team and leave that to the warriors I have around me,” Irving said. “I have some strong people, men and women around me, that are going to do everything possible to make sure that I’m protected, my family’s protected, and we protect one another. So I’m sure some things will be done in the future, but there’s no timetable on that right now.”
Brian Lewis of the New York Post reported the NBPA does not plan to file a grievance on Irving’s behalf. However, it’s possible Irving files an appeal without union support.
Irving serves on the NBPA’s executive committee as a vice president.