An NBA star gave a jersey to an Oct. 7 victim’s family. Some fans are furious.
The Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan disappointed pro-Palestinian NBA fans by accepting an award Thursday from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
(Photo: Erik Drost, Creative Commons)

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan’s crime of compassion

By Louis Keene
April 4, 2024

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Before he was murdered by Hamas terrorists at the Nova Music Festival on Oct. 7, Oron Beilin was a huge Chicago Bulls fan. When DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls’ leading scorer, learned this, he autographed a special jersey for Beilin’s family with Oron’s name and the infinity symbol underneath.

But no good deed goes unpunished, and some NBA fans rushed to decry DeRozan Thursday for supporting Israel after a photo circulated of him accepting an award for the gesture from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Skokie, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago. 

In the photo, DeRozan, who is 34 and a six-time NBA All Star, is standing in front of an Israeli flag and a projector screen that reads “Solidarity With Israel.”

A video of DeRozan’s speech showed him discussing the importance of people uplifting each other and mental health without a mention of Israel or the war. DeRozan revealed his own struggles with depression in 2018, and has since been at the forefront of the discourse around mental health in sports and society; he launched a podcast on the topic last month.

But DeRozan’s message did not seem to matter to the mob online.

“I can no longer call myself a fan of Demar Derozan’s game or brand. Wow man,” one person reacted on X, formerly Twitter.

“My franchise legend is cooked 💔💔,” posted another.

And one reply simply shared a gif of Ye, the rapper and notorious antisemite formerly known as Kanye West.

The Wiesenthal center, founded in Los Angeles in 1977 as a Holocaust museum, has grown into one of the world’s most influential pro-Israel organizations, with an annual budget around $25 million and offices across the U.S. and around the world. Defending Israel is part of its mission.

DeRozan’s gift to Beilin’s family, in January, stood out since few professional athletes have made public statements of any kind about the Hamas attack on Israel or the war it spawned. Non-Jewish celebrities of any kind are a rarity at pro-Israel events these days. And unlike Floyd Mayweather, another high-profile athlete honored by pro-Israel groups for his philanthropy after Oct. 7, DeRozan does not have a record of domestic violence.

Online, one critic used the DeRozan video to grouse about the dearth of pro-Palestinian voices in the NBA, asking, “Other than Kyrie and Jaylen, who else supports Palestine, man?” with a broken-heart emoji.

That’s Kyrie, as in Irving, who was suspended from the Brooklyn Nets in 2022 for antisemitism, after sharing a link to a Holocaust-denial movie. Irving, who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks, also said Ashkenazi Jews used slavery to steal authentic Jewish identity from African nations and refused to say in a follow-up news conference that he was not antisemitic.

When Irving returned a few weeks later, hundreds of men from the hate group Israel United in Christ marched outside the arena chanting: “We are the real Jews.” Jaylen Brown, the other NBA player cited as supporting Palestine, shared a video of that march on Twitter with the caption, “Energy.” He later said he thought the men were members of a Black fraternity.

Louis Keene is a staff reporter at the Forward covering religion, sports and the West Coast. He can be followed on Twitter @thislouis.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. RB

    Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan just gained some new fans who are not terrorist supporters.

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