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Kyrie Irving rejoins the Brooklyn Nets and says he regrets how he handled controversy

Kyrie Irving (left) had 14 points and five rebounds in his return to action for the Nets on Sunday.Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving returned from his suspension with 14 points, fellow starter Ben Simmons tuned up for his trip back to Philadelphia with a season-high 22, and the Brooklyn Nets beat the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies, 127-115, on Sunday night.

The Nets announced Irving would be available to play Sunday morning, after he apologized to anyone who felt threatened or hurt when he posted a link to a documentary with antisemitic material on his Twitter page. They suspended him days later after he had refused to apologize or clarify his beliefs, and he missed eight games.

Kevin Durant scored 26 points, giving him at least 25 in all 17 games this season. That’s the longest streak to start a season since Rick Barry did it in 25 straight in 1966-67.

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But it was the surprise scoring of others who sparked the Nets in this one. Simmons had his first 20-point game since for playing for the 76ers in the 2021 playoffs, and Yuta Watanabe had 16.

Dillon Brooks scored 31 points for the Grizzlies, who were without All-Star Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. But they trailed by only 3 after three quarters before Brooklyn opened the fourth with an 18-5 spurt, featuring four 3-pointers from Watanabe, to break it open at 114-98.

Irving got a good ovation after resuming his spot as the last player announced during starting lineups, then made a 3-pointer on his first shot. He missed his other four shots in 13 first-half minutes.

Simmons also returned to the starting lineup with center Nic Claxton out for personal reasons. Coming off his best game of the season Thursday in Portland, he was even better in this one, shooting 11 for 13 with eight assists and five rebounds.

The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft is set to face the 76ers on Tuesday for the first time since they granted his trade request last February.

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Irving was suspended by the team on Nov. 3, hours after he refused to say he had no antisemitic beliefs when meeting with reporters at the Nets’ practice facility.

Back at the building for the team's morning shootaround, Irving said he should have handled that interview differently.

“I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or antisemitism or anything that is going against the human race,” Irving said. “I feel like we all should have an opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are assumed about us and I feel it was necessary for me to stand in this place and take accountability for my actions, because there was a way I should have handled all this and as I look back and reflect when I had the opportunity to offer my deep regrets to anyone that felt threatened or felt hurt by what I posted, that wasn’t my intent at all.”

Irving has missed eight games during the suspension, which the Nets said would be for a minimum of five games.

Irving said he was initially searching for more information about his heritage when he posted the link to “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” on his Twitter page. When first asked about it, he was defiant about his right to post material that interested him. Then, he refused to apologize or clarify his religious beliefs during another interview a few days later, leading to his suspension.

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“I was rightfully defensive that there was an assumption that I could be antisemitic, or that I meant to post a documentary to stand side by side with all the views in the documentary,” Irving said, adding, “How can you call someone an antisemite if you don’t know them?”

But his tone was more reflective while speaking for about 12 minutes Sunday, thanking family and friends for their support. Some, including officials from the National Basketball Players Association and Nets general manager Sean Marks, were in the room as he spoke.

“I meant no harm to any person, to any group of people and yeah, this is a big moment for me because I’m able to learn throughout this process that the power of my voice is very strong, the influence that I have within my community is very strong, and I want to be responsible for that,” Irving said. “In order to do that, you have to admit when you’re wrong and in instances where you hurt people and it impacts them.”

Nike suspended its relationship with Irving and the fallout seemed to further strain the relationship between Irving and the Nets, who declined to give him a contract extension last summer. He missed most of their home games last season when he refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as was mandated at the time in New York City.

The organization said he was “unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets” when it suspended him. But the Nets praised Irving on Sunday for the steps he has since taken.

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“Kyrie took ownership of this journey and had conversations with several members of the Jewish community,” the team said in a statement. “We are pleased that he is going about the process in a meaningful way.”