Jewish fans express concern over addition of talented, controversial guard
By Gabe Friedman and TJP Staff
(JTA) — The Brooklyn Nets traded Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday, a team whose Jewish owner had spoken up about the star guard’s antisemitism controversy last year.
Mark Cuban, known as one of the NBA’s most outspoken team owners and as a star of the hit TV show “Shark Tank,” did not comment on the trade that was the talk of the league on Sunday. But in the fall, after Irving promoted an antisemitic film on his Twitter account and at first refused to apologize for the tweet, Cuban said the eight-time All-Star was “not educated about the impact” of his online platform.
“If there was just some dude on the street corner saying what Kyrie said, or Kanye said,” Cuban said in an interview with the RealLyfe Productions YouTube channel, referencing the rapper Kanye West’s months-long antisemitism scandal, “you’d just assume they’re crazy and keep on walking, right? But when they’re a celebrity, you can’t do that, because you have a platform.”
Cuban, whose paternal grandparents had their last name changed from Chabenisky after emigrating from Russia, said in the interview that he dealt with antisemitism growing up. He said that he did not think Irving had a “bad heart” in the wake of the scandal.
“I don’t think he’s one of those guys that would be in Charlottesville marching, chanting ‘Jews will not replace us.’ I don’t think that’s him. But I think he’s got a lot to learn,” Cuban said in the RealLyfe interview.
Irving’s promotion of a Black Hebrew Israelite film that made the false claim that Jews dominated the slave trade — and the way he initially defended the move — sent shockwaves beyond the sports world in late October. While an array of public figures and sports commentators immediately called on the Nets to discipline Irving, most of the league’s Jewish team owners did not comment on the fallout, and Adam Silver, the league’s Jewish commissioner, did not meet with Irving for about two weeks after his tweet.
Cuban more harshly criticized West over his repeated antisemitic statements in the fall, calling the rapper’s words “abhorrent” and referencing his mental health struggles.
Dallas’ Kenny Goldberg is a longtime Mavericks fan. He is also the chair of the Texas Holocaust, Genocide and Antisemitism Advisory Commission (THGAAC). For Goldberg, the addition of Irving in light of the posts and statements he made in October and the length of time it took him to apologize for the posts is unsettling.
“I’m concerned because I’ve heard Mark Cuban speak multiple times and in-person recently against antisemitism or about growing up and feeling antisemitism and stating that it has been exacerbated by social media. And, I just don’t understand the move by someone who claims to be a proud Jew and talks about his proud heritage and hiring someone who has failed to show proper remorse for statements or posts that he’s made,” Goldberg said.
The mission of the THGAAC is to combat all forms of antisemitism and hatred. In November, the commission released its first “Study on Antisemitism in Texas,” which will be reviewed by Texas lawmakers during the 2023 legislative session. The report shows the growth of antisemitism in Texas over the last 18 months. It is available to read at https://thgaac.texas.gov/2022-
“[Irving’s hiring] makes our work harder,” Goldberg said.
Brad Sham, the voice of the Dallas Cowboys for almost 45 years, has been outspoken about antisemitism. Following the hostage crisis in Colleyville the team’s head of HR reached out to Sham and the team’s General Counsel Jason Cohen, who is also Jewish, saying the Cowboys wanted to incorporate discussions on antisemitism into their diversity and inclusion programming. Sham helped the team organize a call with the ADL’s Central Division Vice President Cheryl Drazin and Rabbi Nancy Kasten to discuss and learn about antisemitism. Sham told CBS DFW News that more than 250 employees of the organization joined the call.
With regard to the Irving trade, Sham said, “All public figures ought to expect to be held accountable. Athletes, broadcasters, writers, teachers, police. I’d prefer our teams don’t acquire anyone with a history of even perceived bigotry, but he didn’t trade for himself. They know what they’re getting.”
Should the Mavericks want to incorporate additional training or education on antisemitism, the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is at the ready.
“The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum welcomes all opportunities to educate groups and individuals who want to learn more about the history of antisemitism and its impact today. The Museum has a strong relationship with the Dallas Mavericks, and we look forward to continuing to serve as a resource for Mavs players, coaches and staff,” said Mary Pat Higgins, Museum president and CEO.
In October, the Museum honored Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall with its prestigious Hope for Humanity Award for her groundbreaking work on diversity, equity and inclusion for the Mavericks as well as her previous post at AT&T.
For Jewish Mavericks fans, the reaction has been mixed. Several people commented on the TJP Facebook page that they were disappointed in the move. “Disgusted is an understatement,” said one. “Cuban should be ashamed,” said another.
Longtime Mavericks fan Adam Rosenfield, who grew up in Dallas and now lives in Austin, looked at the issue from two sides.
“From a basketball side, it was a move that had to be done. Kyrie is probably the most talented basketball player Luka Dončić has ever played with, and the pressure was on for us to make a move, especially with how our season has been going. It is a gigantic gamble though, but if it works, the sky’s the limit,” Rosenfield said.
On the other hand, Rosenfield said that Irving’s personal views might not serve the team well.
“You have to hope that every opportunity will be made to educate Kyrie about some of the effects of a few of his personal views. He’s been a cancer on three straight teams though, so I’m very doubtful this will work like we want it to,” Rosenfield said. At presstime Monday, the Dallas Mavericks had not responded to TJP emails requesting comment.
TJP staff contributed to this report.