WASHINGTON — N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that he didn’t consider Nets guard Kyrie Irving was antisemitic after meeting with him in person this week on the league’s headquarters in Manhattan. Irving has been facing backlash for promoting an antisemitic film on Twitter last month.
“We had a direct and candid conversation,” Silver, who’s Jewish, said in an interview with The Latest York Times, adding, “He’s someone I’ve known for a decade, and I’ve never heard an antisemitic word from him or, frankly, hate directed at any group.”
In a follow-up phone conversation, Silver added, “Whether or not he’s antisemitic isn’t relevant to the damage attributable to the posting of hateful content.”
Silver declined to elaborate on his meeting with Irving, citing an agreement with him to maintain the main points of their conversation private. Silver talked to The Times after he spoke at Sports Business Journal’s Dealmakers Conference in Washington, his first public appearance amid the firestorm since Irving tweeted an Amazon link for an antisemitic film.
Silver suggested to conference attendees, in response to being asked about Irving, that Amazon bore some responsibility for hosting the film on its platform.
“I feel Amazon has to make decisions as well,” Silver said. He added, “My first instinct wasn’t that something, to me, that’s so frankly vile and filled with hate speech can be contained inside Amazon Prime.”
Silver told the audience that the social media post had done “enormous damage” to Irving and “potentially” to the team and the league. He added that he had “little doubt” that Irving was not antisemitic.
In an Oct. 27 post on Twitter, Irving linked to an Amazon rental and buy web page for the 2018 film “Hebrew to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which is rife with antisemitic tropes and based on a book by the identical name. Irving removed the post three days later. He has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization that fights antisemitism; fellow N.B.A. players; fans; local politicians; the Nets owner Joe Tsai; and Silver, amongst others. For every week after his post, Irving didn’t apologize and wouldn’t say that he didn’t have antisemitic beliefs, prompting the Nets to suspend him indefinitely, for no less than five games. Irving could possibly be eligible to return Sunday for the Nets’ road game against the Los Angeles Lakers. On Thursday, greater than 200 entertainment figures, including the actresses Mila Kunis and Debra Messing, signed an open letter to Amazon urging it to remove the film and the book it relies on from the platform.
The N.B.A. and the Nets faced criticism because Irving was not suspended by the team until Nov. 3, every week after his original post.
“I feel that we got to the fitting consequence here when it comes to his suspension,” Silver said. “And looking back, we could have been capable of get there faster. I accept that criticism. But I felt it was necessary to grasp the context during which it was posted to grasp what discipline was appropriate, not in any approach to excuse it but to grasp what discipline was appropriate.”
Silver said that for the league office, the film “required us to do a little bit of work and research to grasp” what Irving had posted. Silver also said that he had watched the film, which is about three and a half hours.
“Once we did that investigation, it was clear to me that this was indeed hate speech and we, along with the Brooklyn Nets, did respond,” Silver said.
The Nets, Silver said, will determine when Irving can return to the team “in consultation with the league.” The Nets have shared a number of the conditions for Irving’s return, including that he must meet with local Jewish leaders and with the team. While Irving apologized publicly in an Instagram post after he was suspended, it’s unclear if he’ll meet the team’s conditions. Irving and the Nets announced in a press release with the A.D.L. last week that they might each donate $500,000 to anti-hate causes.
Asked if he was comfortable with the Nets’ terms, Silver said, “That’s being discussed right now.”
He added: “I feel that what I understand where things stand is the Nets want to make this right into a partnership between them and Kyrie as to what remediation is suitable. Because what’s most significant here is that the remorse be truly authentic and real. And I feel that may best come by conditions which can be agreed to upon versus imposed on him.”
But some people have said that the Nets’ terms are too onerous. Lakers forward LeBron James, who played with Irving in Cleveland, said in a Twitter post Thursday that Irving needs to be back on the court.
“I told you guys that I don’t consider in sharing hurtful information,” James said in his tweet, referring to his comment to reporters last week that Irving’s post had been harmful. “And I’ll proceed to be that way, but Kyrie apologized and he should find a way to play.”
He continued: “That’s what I feel. It’s that straightforward. Help him learn — but he needs to be playing. What he’s asked to do to get back on the ground I feel is excessive.”
James said that was just his opinion and added of Irving, “He’s not the person who’s being portrayed of him.”
Silver said “no” when asked if he had a response to James’s post and commenced discussing Irving’s right under the league’s collective bargaining agreement to be represented by the N.B.A. players’ union, where Irving serves as a vice chairman. Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, one other vice chairman of the union’s executive committee, told the Boston Globe in an interview earlier this week that he expected the union to appeal the suspension.
“That’s something we’re going to must sort through,” Silver said. “But at this point, we’re working cooperatively with Kyrie and his representatives attempting to provide you with a plan for remedial motion.”
Irving’s social media post also cost him no less than one sponsor: The sports giant Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after years of constructing signature shoes with Irving’s name on them.
Phil Knight, a Nike co-founder, told CNBC on Thursday that Irving had “stepped over the road” and that he doubted the corporate would ever work with Irving again.
“He made some statements that we just can’t abide by and that’s why we ended the connection,” Knight said. “And I used to be positive with that.”
Brown, who was also Irving’s teammate on the Celtics, posted on Twitter in response, “Since when did Nike care about ethics?”
Silver said to the group on the conference that the delay in a more forceful response to Irving was a results of wanting to be thorough.
“It doesn’t mean that if he said, ‘I’m sorry,’ that may’ve been the top of it,” Silver said. “It sure would’ve made a giant difference, I feel, to thousands and thousands of individuals. However it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have still been accountable for it. But I feel that’s what we search for within the league. True accountability, and that folks from the skin, from player — wherever they’re on that roster — to educate, management, all the best way as much as the owner, and the league office, that we’re held accountable for our actions. That’s what you should see as a fan.”