Let's just say it: The Brooklyn Nets have made—or are in the process of making—a series of decisions that have strained the team's credibility as a franchise.
The Nets have a lot to answer for, and instead they are not giving any real answers. It is hard to imagine how they'll answer for hiring Ime Udoka, which reportedly they intend to do. And it is hard to imagine a less adequate response to antisemitism than we have seen in their handling of Kyrie Irving's tacit endorsement of antisemitic rhetoric.
Udoka is coming off a tremendous rookie season as head coach of the Boston Celtics, taking the team to the NBA Finals. But his off-court conduct prompted the Celtics to hire an outside firm to investigate an improper workplace relationship with a female subordinate that involved "crude language," according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Udoka was suspended for the 2022-23 season after the investigation was complete.
The exact details may never see the light of day. But imagine being a woman working for the Nets now, knowing Udoka's recent history of misconduct in Boston? Imagine being a Jewish Brooklyn Nets season-ticket holder, the backup on the roster to Irving, or the aspiring assistant coach who's done everything right.
Nets general manager Sean Marks has denied that a deal with Udoka or anyone else is close. But even the reports that the team is interested in Udoka led to a feeling of immediate resentment around the league.
"Bust your ass daily. Do everything right. Keep your nose clean and keep yourself qualified and ready and still don't get a shot," one such NBA source said. "Meanwhile, guys that are known assh--es with awful pasts and deplorable character and decision-making skills get chance after chance. It's beyond vexing."
The Udoka news was especially deflating with the echoes of Irving's antisemitic social media endorsements still beaming across every sports-talk medium. Despite calls for stiffer punishment—or at the very least a speedy semi-apology from Irving—the only thing we know about the Nets' conscience is a tweet from its governor, Joe Tsai.
"This is bigger than basketball," Tsai posted in response to his former All-Star guard's support of "a film based on a book full of antisemitic disinformation."
It doesn't feel like that regarding Udoka, if he's the hire. The team will either say it did its due diligence with Steve Nash still in its employ, or that they're going off what the rest of us already know, which is not much. The team can cite the 2020-21 season Udoka spent in Brooklyn as an assistant to Nash as a basis for their confidence in his character.
The team can still back out of talks with Udoka and deny any ever took place, but even considering him feels concerning. To be sure, Udoka may not deserve a lifetime ban from coaching in the sport, but his suspension is still raw and lacking in closure.
"The Nets are showing that a certain amount of talent/success trumps character/what's right," one NBA agent said.
How are the fans taking it all in? Not well, judging by the popular NetsDaily Twitter account.
Meanwhile, Irving continues to represent the franchise on the court mere days after tweeting out a link to an unfathomably problematic film. Jon Blistein of Rolling Stone wrote the film is "stuffed with antisemitic tropes" and contains ideas "in line with more extreme factions of the Black Hebrew Israelites, which have a long history of misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and especially antisemitism."
The Nets issued a statement to "condemn ... the promotion of any form of hate speech." But Irving has not expressed contrition.
I am an OMNIST and I meant no disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs. The “Anti-Semitic” label that is being pushed on me is not justified and does not reflect the reality or truth I live in everyday. I embrace and want to learn from all walks of life and religions.<br><br>Hélà🤞🏾♾
He tweeted Saturday he "meant no disrespect," but he left no apology and decried the antisemitic label instead of committing to a deeper understanding of where he went astray. His press conference later that day was combative.
Not understanding the complexities of the Jewish experience is one thing; refusing to take accountability for endorsing antisemitism is another. Irving's tweet came at a particularly difficult time for Jewish people in the United States. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 saw a record high for reports of antisemitism; a 34 percent rise from 2020.
Compare the Nets' approach to the Miami Heat's with Meyers Leonard, whose use of an antisemitic slur on a Twitch stream in March 2021 led to him being indefinitely suspended from the team the next day. Two days after that, he was handed a $50,000 fine and a one-week suspension. It has now been six days since Irving's tweet promoting the film, and he has neither been fined (at least not publicly) nor suspended by the Nets.
There are other ways to show remorse, if the team doesn't have the stomach to suspend a superstar. Per Gavin Good of the Chicago Tribune, Leonard "visited a Holocaust museum and was introduced to survivors and descendants of survivors by [Rabbi Pinny] Andrusier, an experience he and Leonard believe helped him grasp the seriousness of the hurt his words brought."
If Irving is the free thinker he claims to be, the road to enlightenment should be clear. The Jewish people's history may be difficult to hear, but it's worth his time.
One factor in the Nets' and Kyrie's response that has not come into play but might: economic fallout. Kanye West, now known as Ye, lost sponsors left and right for espousing similar antisemitic tropes.
As the story has developed since Irving's tweet on Friday, the chorus of astonishment has grown louder. TNT analyst Charles Barkley said the team should have taken responsibility before it reached the league's decision-makers, but still chastised the NBA for a weak response. The NBA and the NBA Players Association have yet to put the words "antisemitism" and "Kyrie Irving" in the same sentence.
"I think the NBA dropped the ball. I think he should have been suspended [Irving]," Barkley said on air. "We have suspended and fined people who have made homophobic slurs; that was the right thing to do. I think if you insult the Black community, you should be suspended or fined heavily."
Does this have to be the cost of doing business in the NBA? Irving put the Nets and the league in unenviable positions. By extension, Brooklyn has alienated the Jewish population and its allies. And if the team hires Udoka, it could be doing the same to women inside and outside the organization.
On Tuesday, NetsDaily reported the allegations against Udoka extend to him sending inappropriate messages repeatedly to women on the Celtics staff.
The Nets need to take a more significant role in educating and/or punishing Irving if he remains willfully in denial. Meanwhile, Irving continues to suit up for the team while Marks shields his star point guard from the media.
The Nets have a problematic reputation problem. They are now the franchise that gave a pass to an antisemite. They're—at minimum—seriously considering hiring a coach so toxic that an Eastern Conference rival would pack his bags for him. They are the franchise that seems to be fixing a problem by diverting the public's attention and creating another problem.
They are the franchise that prioritizes appeasing a petulant star over integrity.
The Nets are simply not living by the words of the man who runs the team.
"This is bigger than basketball," tweeted Joe Tsai.
It is, but the Nets sure are acting small.