For several agonizing days, the pleas had grown into a crescendo for Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai to punish star guard Kyrie Irving. The most important and invested voices in his orbit -- including NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Nets general manager Sean Marks -- had sided with a broad swath of the public in believing that Irving's refusal to condemn the contents of an antisemitic film he shared on his social media had left the Nets no choice but to suspend him, sources told ESPN.
Against the backdrop of calls for swift action, sources said Tsai had resisted and insisted on taking time to educate Irving on the horrors of antisemitism. He'd enlisted the counsel of the Anti-Defamation League, watched the full 3½ hours of the hate-filled movie Irving had shared, "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America" -- complete with its Holocaust denialism and quoting of antisemites such as Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford -- and researched the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, whose beliefs Irving frequently references in public settings.
As it turned out, the redemptive arc that Tsai had imagined for his star had devolved into what the owner felt was a repetitive exercise in Irving's betrayal of good faith, sources said. For nearly a week, Tsai kept extending the clock to give Irving a chance to get this right for himself, the franchise and the Jewish community -- and Irving never returned a single of his text messages, sources said. Almost a week later, Irving had shown no inclination to deliver an apology, nor a disassociation of the movie's contents, nor a willingness to answer "No" when asked if he held antisemitic beliefs.
The team Thursday leveled a five-game suspension without pay, declaring Irving "currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets."
For all the questions surrounding the most troubling week in the troubled tenure of Irving and the Nets, one question remained: Why did it take Tsai so long to get there? As much as anything, Tsai had held out a hope that there could be a two-way conversation with Irving.
Tsai issued a statement Friday night, declaring he was "disappointed that Kyrie appears to support a film based on a book full of antisemitic disinformation," and described his desire to "sit down and make sure he understands this is hurtful to all of us, and as a man of faith, it is wrong to promote hate based on race, ethnicity or religion."
After a combative news conference Saturday night in which Irving said he refused to "stand down," stronger calls had emerged within Nets leadership and the commissioner's office to level a suspension, sources said. For the franchise and league, embarrassment grew and patience waned. For most, the news conference had portrayed a familiar Irving -- defiant, undeterred and crusading with misinformation.
"I'm only going to get stronger because I'm not alone," Irving said. "I have a whole army around me."
This stirred the echoes of Irving's anti-science, anti-vaccination stance of a season ago. Much of the Nets' standoff with Irving, 30, in the offseason had been rooted in the franchise's unwillingness to guarantee the 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick a long-term contract, leaving him in the final season of his deal at a $36.5 million salary.