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LeBron James joins chorus of NBA players questioning Kyrie Irving punishment

The leadership of the league’s player association said Irving’s Instagram apology was sufficient after he shared an antisemitic film

LeBron James became the latest and most influential NBA player to say Kyrie Irving’s punishment for sharing an antisemitic movie and repeatedly refusing to disavow it was overkill, in a tweet Thursday.

“I told you guys that I don’t believe in sharing hurtful information,” James, widely considered one of the top players in the history of the league, wrote in a series of tweets. “And I’ll continue to be that way but Kyrie apologized and he should be able to play. That’s what I think. It’s that simple.  Help him learn — but he should be playing. What he’s asked to do to get back on the floor I think is excessive IMO. He’s not the person that’s being portrayed of him. Anyways back to my rehab session.”

The Los Angeles Lakers star joined the chorus of players questioning the conditions set by the Brooklyn Nets for Irving, their seven-time all-star guard, to return to play after tweeting a link to a film that promotes the falsehoods that the Holocaust was a hoax and that Jewish people were the architects of Black enslavement. Those conditions included meeting with Jewish leaders and the Anti-Defamation League, sensitivity training and a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes, on top of a five-game suspension without pay.

Only one NBA player, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Robin Lopez, had publicly condemned Irving’s actions or comments in the seven days between his posting of the film and his suspension.

James has embraced a role as a spokesperson on social justice issues and matters pertaining to player empowerment. His comments followed earlier remarks in which he issued a broad condemnation of hate in response to a question about Irving and said that what he did “caused harm to a lot of people.”

“It’s simple,” James said Nov. 5. “Me personally, I don’t condone any hate to any kind, to any race — to Jewish communities, to Black communities, to Asian communities. You guys know where I stand.”

Irving’s Nov. 3 apology, which came within a few hours of the Nets announcing his suspension, did not totally disavow the film — or as Irving continues to call it, the “documentary.”

“I want to clarify any confusion on where I stand fighting against antisemitism 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,” Irving wrote.

Leaders of the player’s association have expressed the belief that around the league players think that Irving’s apology — an Instagram post in which he disavowed parts but not all of the film — was sufficient.

Jaylen Brown, a Boston Celtic who like Irving is a vice president of the player’s union, implied that the union might grieve the consequences and suggested that Irving might not himself embrace antisemitic beliefs.

“There is an interesting distinction between what somebody says verbally and what somebody posts as a link on a platform with no description behind it,” Brown said, echoing Irving’s original defense that tweeting a link to a film was not the same thing as promoting it. 

“He had a proper apology, in my opinion,” executive committee member Garrett Temple told The Athletic Nov. 7. “He’s been accountable for his actions.”

James’ Thursday comments were not his first time wading into antisemitic waters.

In 2018, he posted the words, “I’m getting that Jewish money, everything is kosher,” on a video of himself singing those lyrics in a rap song.

He later backtracked, telling ESPN, “Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone. That’s not why I chose to share that lyric. I always [post lyrics]. That’s what I do. I ride in my car, I listen to great music and that was the byproduct of it. So, I actually thought it was a compliment and obviously it wasn’t through the lens of a lot of people. My apologies. It definitely was not the intent, obviously, to hurt anybody.”

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