Nike splits with NBA star Kyrie Irving after anti-Semitism row

Despite pressure applied on him publicly, he refused to apologise, and was suspended for eight games, forfeiting millions of dollars in salary



Photo: AP
Photo: AP

By AFP

Published: Tue 6 Dec 2022, 7:30 AM

Kyrie Irving's multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with Nike is finished — the sportswear company said on Monday — after the basketball megastar became embroiled in an anti-Semitism row.

The tie-up — reportedly worth around $11 million to the athlete — was one of the largest in the sporting world, and its dissolution comes as companies increasingly face pressure over the views of their star signings.

"Kyrie Irving is no longer a Nike athlete," a spokesman for the company told AFP in a one-line email.

The sponsorship deal was thrown into doubt in October after the Brooklyn Nets' point guard posted a link to the film Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America — a 2018 film widely condemned for containing a range of anti-Semitic tropes.

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Despite pressure applied on him publicly by the NBA outfit, Irving refused to apologise, and was suspended for eight games, forfeiting millions of dollars in salary.

In early November, Nike said it was suspending its relationship with Irving, and was pulling the "Kyrie 8" shoe that had been due for release last month.

Irving took to Twitter on Monday, replying to a journalist who wrote about the Nike rupture, with a GIF of the words: "Let the party begin".

Hours later, he also posted:

"Anyone who has even spent their hard earned money on anything I have ever released, I consider you FAMILY and we are forever connected. It's time to show how powerful we are as a community."

In the wake of his initial post, Irving was pulled from the Nets roster, with the team citing his "failure to disavow anti-Semitism" — either on social media, or in meetings with reporters.

In an interview several weeks later, he insisted he was not anti-Semitic.

"I just really want to focus on the hurt that I caused or the impact that I made within the Jewish community, putting some type of threat, or assumed threat, on the Jewish community," Irving told SportsNet New York.

"I just want to apologise deeply for all my actions for the time that it has been since the post was first put up."

Irving — whose deal with the Nets is worth $37 million a year — did not play home games with the team for the first few months of 2022 because he is not vaccinated against Covid-19.

At the time, New York City workplace rules mandated vaccines for employees.

The Nets initially said he would not be allowed back into the squad until he could play full time, but later relented and he was selected for road games.

News of Irving's split with Nike comes days after Kanye West doubled down on his fierce anti-Semitism, using a three-hour appearance on the InfoWars stream to proclaim his "love" of Nazis and his admiration for Adolf Hitler.

West has seen several multi-million dollar sponsorship deals — including one with Adidas — evaporate, as his comments on Jewish people have become ever-more outlandish.


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