The NBA can’t move on until Kyrie Irving repents

The Brooklyn Nets star needs to show us what he learned while suspended

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Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving
Photo: AP

The NBA can’t move on until Kyrie Irving repents

The most important thing Dave Chappelle said during his Saturday Night Live monologue was unquestionably correct. The Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world and our suffering in no way can be traced to Black Americans. Chappelle’s dead-on about that and anyone who thinks otherwise is racist. Point blank, period, with no exceptions.

Chappelle delivered the remark in the context of Kyrie Irving’s suspension from the Brooklyn Nets. Irving promoted an antisemitic documentary and book on his social media, then refused to accept responsibility for the aftermath. Because of his posts, the book — which incorrectly connects the Jewish people playing an integral role in the Atlantic slave trade — held three of the top-seven spots on Amazon’s bestseller list of religion and spirituality texts, including No. 1.

Irving’s return to the NBA is imminent. How he should be treated moving forward should be unique because the circumstances surrounding his suspension were a first for the league. The most important part is not shying away from the facts of why the Nets were without one of their best players for an extended stretch. Cherry-picking the circumstances behind Irving’s suspension was also part of Chappelle’s act and sets a bad precedent for what league commentators should do when calling Brooklyn’s games after Irving returns to the court.

Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Monologue - SNL

I’m a fan of Chappelle, I have been for two decades. I’ve seen all 28 episodes of Chappelle’s Show multiple times. He’s a comedic genius. When I saw SNL booked him for its first post-midterm election show, I expected we’d get jokes at the expense of Herschel Walker and Donald Trump. Chappelle usually blends raw Americana into his stand-up bits and did so here brilliantly. I knew he’d also talk about Kanye West and Irving. Chappelle would’ve been off his game if provided a live mic on NBC and he didn’t dive into a high-profile, polarizing story with two famous Black men as main characters.

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I was on the elliptical listening to Chappelle’s 15-minute monologue for the first time on Sunday night. Even with my expectations of what he’d talk about, I was determined to have a lighthearted attitude toward his jokes. It’s comedy and the foremost goal is to make us laugh. Chappelle’s material pierces through traditional humorous norms, which is why he’s endeared himself to so many and precisely why the cancel-culture crowd had their pitchforks ready to take him out of relevancy. And even with my displeasure as to some of the things Chappelle said on SNL, I don’t think he should lose any further bookings or media appearances over Saturday’s material. What’s more important is calling out the wrongs and how we all learn from them.

Chappelle’s jokes about Jewish people already having plans on “Sha-nah-nah” and asking why some in Judaism dress like Run-D.M.C. were hysterical to the point where I must’ve got weird looks while trying to contain my laughter. About two minutes later, my smile was completely gone with the line “Kanye got in so much trouble, Kyrie got in trouble.” I drew the line there because, in any performance art, communication is your greatest tool. If what you’re communicating isn’t accurate, nothing else matters. Irving got in trouble because of Irving. His negligent actions deserved punishment. Chappelle’s opening statement, comedy or not, where he denounced antisemitism in all its forms and he said he stands with the Jewish people, is exactly what Irving needed to say and horribly failed to do several times to avoid suspension. If Irving decided on his own to follow West’s actions, he couldn’t have had worse judgment. And he’s still liable.

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Irving wasn’t just “slow” to apologize. He didn’t until his paycheck was taken away, putting into serious question its sincerity. His attempted apology hours after getting suspended misspelled antisemitism, as if the acknowledgment was an afterthought. Plus, the NBA didn’t suspend Irving. Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai did. Contrary to some, I believe the league’s leadership made the right decision not to suspend Irving two weeks ago. There’s no historical precedent for suspending a player for hate speech on social media. It’s been up to the individual franchises, like the case of former Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard, who used an antisemitic slur on a video game livestream. He was suspended by his team indefinitely first, then given a one-week ban from the NBA before being ultimately traded to Oklahoma City. He never played a game for the Thunder and was released. An NBA-mandated suspension also would’ve been unfair to society at large. The LGBTQ+ community would’ve been rightly pissed to see Irving get a temporary ban from the NBA and not Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, whose homophobic remarks surfaced on Instagram in September. The NBA and the Nets did fumble the bag waiting five days to take any disciplinary action.

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Irving’s minimum five-game suspension will reach sit-out No. 7 Tuesday night, as he’s already been ruled out for Brooklyn’s road game against Sacramento. When he’s fulfilled Tsai’s “series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct,” Irving will return to the court. Tsai can’t kick this can down the road forever. Irving will start again for the Nets and whether he’s booed or cheered during lineup announcements doesn’t concern me. What I am invested in is how Irving is described when he’s back on the floor and how he doesn’t deserve a fresh slate. That’s also why I took issue with LeBron James’ tweet on Thursday, before the Nets hadn’t even been without Irving for five games. I know James wants to support his friend, but the message’s timing was horrible and the content was tone-deaf. Irving made this mess himself and the clean-up process should completely be in Tsai’s control.

For historical context, Michael Vick never outran his dog-fighting stigma, even after spending 21 months in federal prison. When Irving returns, he’ll have served the appropriate time away from basketball. As talk of the suspension comes up in conversation, lessening the facts and sticking to sports is irresponsible. Irving’s on-court return needs to be paired with public repentance. He’ll have to speak to the media again soon, where he’ll be peppered with questions about what he learned during his time away. I’ll be curious to hear his answer, hopefully starting with “I’m truly sorry to the Jewish people and everyone my actions have hurt.”

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A few of Chappelle’s remarks devalued Judaism and normalized antisemitism during a major uptick in awareness of the plight of the Jewish people. Antisemitic actions are sprouting up more too, like the disgusting graffiti found in Bethesda, Maryland on Monday. Should the NBA and those calling league games treat Irving like Chappelle did, they will be doing the Jewish people a massive disservice. There’s nothing comedic about that.