CHICAGO — When Nets guard Kyrie Irving returned Sunday night from his suspension for posting a link to an antisemitic film and subsequently not apologizing for it, Israel United in Christ, which has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, demonstrated outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in support of Irving and handed out antisemitic literature.
On Sunday night, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, who has been a vocal supporter of Irving during his ordeal, shared a video of the group chanting prior to the Nets game against the Grizzlies and added “Energy” as his caption.
Later Sunday, Brown posted that he was “not aware” of Israel United in Christ, which has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as racist, homophobic, and antisemitic. Brown said he was just “celebrating the unification of our people welcoming the return of Kyrie to the court.” He said he thought the group was a Black fraternity.
After the Celtics’ shootaround Monday morning, Brown further explained his thought process.
“I didn’t have my reading glasses on,” he said. “I didn’t know who that group was. But my instincts when I first saw that video was that I come from a community torn every day by systemic representations and imagery of violence in our community, so when I saw that video, it struck a chord for different reasons.
“I saw a large group of people from our community showing support for [Irving] and his return. So me being proud of that support and being proud of our community for doing that does not mean I endorse or celebrate some of the things that were being done or being said.”
As of Monday afternoon, Brown’s initial tweet showing the video of Israel United in Christ had not been removed. Brown said that if he deleted the tweet, he would be removing his support of Irving.
“Any attempt to misconstrue what I was supporting, from any group, media member or person, I think trying to misconstrue or disassociate what my attempt at support was, I think clearly has an agenda,” Brown said. “I was supporting a former teammate and union member returning to the NBA. That’s it. Anybody else that wants to add to it has an agenda that they want to get across.”
When Brown was asked if, now that he knows Israel United Christ’s background, he could see how his initial tweet could be viewed as support of it, he stressed that he was simply backing Irving.
“Everything I just told you I support is being stated,” he said. “Anybody that’s trying to misconstrue that has an agenda that they’re trying to get across.
“I think that’s a larger conversation that needs to be had. Two things can be true at the same time. Is it illegal to support somebody returning to the NBA? I understand, but I think people are not going to be willing to listen to what I have to say, and I can’t control that.”
Brown, an NBA Players Association vice president, recently spoke out against the initial terms for Irving’s return that were created by the Nets. On Monday, he said he has been in touch with Irving during the process.
“Kyrie has contributed in a lot of ways to the game of basketball, so for him to be able to come back and be on the floor last night I thought was something to celebrate,” Brown said. “I thought that was something to support.
“Obviously the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets, decided that whatever the disagreements were or the concern was was obviously handled, and we’re moving on. So I was supporting that decision.”
Celtics guard Marcus Smart returned for a 121-107 loss to the Bulls Monday after missing two games because of swelling in his right ankle. Smart said he recently underwent an MRI that revealed a “really bad bone bruise,” and he acknowledged that he expects the ankle swelling to be an issue throughout the season.
“I definitely think there’s going to be times where I miss a game or two because of it,” Smart said, “but nothing too crazy.”