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As Black Hebrew Israelite group gathers outside arena, Kyrie Irving returns to NBA court

Irving apologized for sharing a link to an antisemitic film in a lengthy interview that posted Saturday

Kyrie Irving, the NBA star who caused an uproar by posting a link to an antisemitic movie and then refusing to disavow it, rejoined the Brooklyn Nets Sunday in his first game since his suspension by the team earlier this month.

Irving’s return followed a series of apologies he made on social media and in the press for hurting the Jewish community and for not clarifying sooner his stance on certain offensive claims made in the movie, “Hebrews to Negroes,” including that the Holocaust was a hoax. 

Irving said that he wanted to “apologize deeply” in a video interview Saturday with SNY, a New York outlet. “I’m not antisemitic,” Irving said. “I never have been. I don’t have hate in my heart for the Jewish people or anyone that identifies as a Jew. I’m not anti-Jewish or any of that.” 

But as he took his warmup shots inside the Barclays Center before the game against the Memphis Grizzlies, an organized rally that appeared to be in his defense was dominating the scene outside. 

The men, appearing to number in the hundreds and wearing matching purple shirts with the logo of Israel United In Christ, a group identified by the ADL as “one of the country’s largest antisemitic and extremist Black Hebrew Israelite groups,” marched from a park near the arena to its front gate, then surrounded it.

Among their chants, booming out in call-and-response, it sounded as if they were saying, “We are the real Jews.”

Though some close to Irving, including NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Nets owner Joe Tsai, have said they do not believe he is antisemitic, his apologies — on Instagram hours after his suspension was announced Nov. 3, in a one-on-one interview Saturday and finally in a media scrum before Sunday’s game — left questions about both what he believes and what he believes he did wrong.

During his eight-game suspension, which was announced as a minimum of five games with a required “series of objective remedial measures,” Irving also became a cause celebre for NBA players who felt the rumored list of requirements — including meeting face-to-face with Jewish leaders — demanded too much. In an interview with The New York Times on Thursday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said he had spoken with Irving’s relatives, but not the NBA star himself.

Jaylen Brown, an All-Star for the Boston Celtics who, like Irving, is a vice president of the NBA players’ union, appeared to tweet his support for the group rallying outside the arena.

Others expressed disappointment in Brown’s tweet.

“Jaylen Brown has spoken so passionately about equality and systemic injustice, and it’s so disappointing to see this kind of rhetoric amplified,” wrote ESPN staff writer Joon Lee.

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