Kyrie Irving calls himself a “beacon of light.” He described himself this way in Thursday’s contentious press conference at the Brooklyn Nets‘ practice facility, and in a prepared statement released the previous night by the Nets, the Anti-Defamation League and Irving himself. He also described himself this way last season, first on Instagram Live on media day, then after a game in January, both times discussing his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

If Irving is beacon of light, though, then he wastes a surprising amount of words shrouding his beliefs in ambiguity. Irving has twice taken questions about his decision to publicize a film full of antisemitic conspiracy theories. At no point in either media session did he clearly explain why he promoted that particular film, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” on his Twitter and Instagram accounts. Irving said he watches documentaries to “elevate my consciousness,” and he is “not going to stand down on anything that I believe in.” Instead of making it clear where he stands, though, all that he clarified was that he resents anybody asking. 

At Defector, Diana Moskovitz wrote this week that Irving defended himself with “his characteristic defiant opacity,” a phrase I haven’t been able to get out of my head. For all of the moves Irving has pulled off on the court, he is never more evasive than when he’s questioned about his beliefs. The Nets suspended him Thursday not just because he’d spread an antisemitic film and refused to condemn the ideas in it, but because, according to ESPN, he’d ghosted team owner Joe Tsai, declined to communicate with the Anti-Defamation League and rejected several opportunities to state on the record that he does not hold antisemitic beliefs. Irving said multiple times that he respects and embraces “all walks of life,” as if that mere statement should quash any concerns people might have about his sharing of a film that alleges that Jewish people have been lying about who they are, lying about the Holocaust and want to “extort America” as part of “their plan for world domination.” (That last bit is attributed in the film to Adolf Hitler; the quote is fake and Hitler’s first name is spelled incorrectly.)

This scandal is hardly the first time that Irving has bristled at questions about his beliefs, nor is it the first time that his forays into the world of conspiracy theories have caused controversy. You probably remember that Irving pushed flat-Earth bunk on a podcast in 2017, but you might be under the mistaken impression that he has since denounced it. Almost immediately afterward, NBA commissioner Adam Silver laughed it off and called it an effective comment “on the sort of so-called fake news debate that’s going on in our society right now.”

The truth is that, after passionately questioning the validity of Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon’s surface and saying that “particular groups” are lying about the Earth being round, Irving only apologized for saying what he said publicly, rather than in “intimate conversations.” He claimed that he was being intentionally provocative, but never disavowed his comments supporting the conspiracy theory and repeatedly complained that people were mad about them. 

In a 2018 interview, Irving told the New York Times‘ Sopan Deb that he is “not against anyone that thinks the Earth is round” and “not against anyone that thinks the Earth is flat.” Irving also told the Times, “I’ve definitely wanted — well I know I am — a generational leader. To do that, it takes a long, long time of learning about other human beings, history and incorporating all that into things that I love,” adding that he “absolutely” wants to own his own television network one day and wants to bring “a certain sense of authenticity” to audiences.

Irving may want to learn and lead, but he resists telling people where his intellectual wanderings are taking him. Although he was willing to miss most of the 2021-22 season instead of getting vaccinated, he took offense to the notion that he is an anti-vaxxer and has still never explicitly explained his rationale. “It’s not about being anti-vax or being on one side or the other,” he said on Instagram Live last September. Days earlier, Rolling Stone had reported that Irving had liked Instagram posts by a conspiracy theorist who “claims that ‘secret societies’ are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for ‘a plan of Satan.'”

Last Saturday, he said three times that he does not want to be “divisive,” and insisted that all he does is “post things for my people and my community and those that it’s actually going to impact,” adding that, if anyone criticizes something he posts, then “it obviously wasn’t meant for them.” 

If you try to discern Irving’s most strongly held beliefs through his public statements, you will inevitably conclude that he is fanatically devoted to one idea: He should never be labeled or judged for what he thinks. While Irving has invited Kanye West comparisons lately, in particular when he said Thursday that he “cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” the way he responds to criticism has long evoked West’s earlier work: “once again I am being attacked for presenting new ideas.”

“Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” is not an informative documentary that comes with an unfortunate side of antisemitism. It is a wildly antisemitic film featuring “vile and harmful content,” as Silver put it in a statement. And Irving has still not entirely denounced it. In his apology on Thursday night, Irving wrote that he is “deeply sorry” to have caused pain to the Jewish community and is “apologizing for posting the documentary without context and a factual explanation outlining the specific beliefs in the Documentary I agreed with and disagreed with.”

So what, exactly, does Irving agree with? He has said that the film “may have had some unfortunate falsehoods in it,” adding that “some of the criticism of the Jewish faith and the community” is not true, but, unless he decides to get more specific in between now and his next media availability, he will eventually face another stream of questions, at which point he’ll have the same choice he’s had before: Obfuscate, thereby ensuring that it will the stream will keep flowing, or shut it down with clear and direct answers.

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