Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving trotted out to a deafening roar from the Barclays Center crowd Sunday during his first pregame introduction following an eight-game suspension.
On a day where Irving’s apology for posts linking to an antisemitic film made morning headlines, the focus surprisingly shifted toward basketball Sunday night. Brooklyn defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 127-115 in one of their better team-oriented efforts of the season.
While it was Ben Simmons and Yuta Watanabe who stole the show, the Brooklyn crowd took every chance they got to cheer for Irving, who looked rusty with 14 points on 5 of 12 shooting and four turnovers.
“It felt good. Just missed my teammates, missed the coaching staff,” Kyrie Irving said of his first appearance since Nov. 1. “It felt good to get this game out of the way, now we can move forward for the rest of the season.”
As much as Irving would like to move forward, the effects of his posts of a film ripe with antisemitic tropes continue to linger. Prior to Sunday’s game, a group called Israel United in Christ lined up outside Barclays Center in support of Irving’s return. The Black Hebrew Israelite group, which is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, handed out flyers with the headline “The truth about antisemitism.”
These flyers are being handed out outside of Barclays Center which say, "The Truth about Antisemitism"
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) November 20, 2022
The group had protested Irving’s suspension outside of Barclays Center prior to a matchup with the Knicks on Nov. 9. Despite the controversial show of support, Irving kept the focus on basketball when asked for comment postgame.
“I think that’s a conversation for another day,” he said. “Just want to focus on ball.”
Irving’s suspension drew criticism from the NBPA with VP Jaylen Brown, as well as LeBron James, voicing their displeasure with Brooklyn’s handling of the situation. Marc Stein reported last week that the players union had considered filing a grievance on Irving’s behalf. The fourth-year Net was asked Sunday if that was something he could move forward with.
“I got to leave that to my legal team and leave that to the warriors I have around me,” Kyrie Irving said. “I have some strong people, men and women around me, that are going to do everything possible to make sure that I’m protected, my family’s protected, and we protect one another. So I’m sure some things will be done in the future, but there’s no timetable on that right now.”
Kyrie when asked if he ever thought about filing a grievance during his suspension:
“I’m sure some things will be done in the future, but there’s no timetable on that right now.” pic.twitter.com/0kbbzFQ0N6
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) November 21, 2022
Irving issued a spoken apology for the first time Sunday morning, confirming that he is not antisemitic. The guard said he better grasped the harm his posts had caused after meetings with many within the Jewish community. Following the month-long controversy that started with his social media posts, Irving was asked how he hopes to use his platform in the future.
“I would like to be on a platform where I could openly share how I feel without being harshly criticized, or being labeled,” Irving said. “Or dealing with outside perceptions that have nothing to do with me.”
The comment was the lengthiest the Nets guard would offer on the situation. The press conference, which lasted just four minutes, ended shortly after and Kevin Durant soon took Irving’s place at the podium.
Durant, who is having one of the best starts to a season in his career, said it was good to have Irving back with the focus on basketball.
“It’s always nice to just focus on the game,” Durant said. “We understand the circumstances around our game now. Our league is getting bigger, there’s so much attention on it, so every little thing might get blown up nowadays, so as much as we can just focus on playing ball and keep growing as a team, I think our fans can get behind that. I think you guys will get behind that as well. So we just want to keep stacking up good days, see what happens.”
Sunday’s win, Brooklyn’s sixth in their last nine games, brings the Nets to 8-9 on the season. Jacque Vaughn’s squad will travel down the New Jersey turnpike to Philadelphia Tuesday for a matchup with the depleted 76ers.