Nike has officially parted ways with Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving, following the now infamous anti-Semitic controversy, according to a statement released by the company.
“Kyrie Irving is no longer a Nike athlete,” a Nike spokesman said.
In a move that was forecast following comments made by Nike founder Phil Knight in an interview with CNBCthe announcement formally signals the early termination of his endorsement deal, which was initially due et to expire until October 2023.
“I would doubt that we go back,” Knight said, via Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.
“…Kyrie stepped over the line. It’s kind of that simple. He made some statements that we just can’t abide by and that’s why we ended the relationship. And I was fine with that.”
There were already reports Nike wasn’t planning to sign him to a new deal next year. Regardless, this news is a sour ending to an otherwise fruitful 11-year relationship between Nike and Irving.
The reported $11m-per-year ($16.4m AUD) sponsorship deal came under pressure last month when the NBA superstar was suspended indefinitely by the Brooklyn Nets, who cited his “failure to disavow anti-Semitism” — either on social media or in meetings with reporters — after sparking a firestorm when he posted a link to an anti-Semitic film on his social media.
Hours after the suspension was issued, Irving finally offered an apology on Instagram.
However, the sportswear giant distanced itself from him in the wake of his initial post, saying it would not launch the Kyrie 8 shoe that had been expected to debut in November, effectively suspending his relationship with the Brooklyn Nets’ point guard.
“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of anti-Semitism,” the company said in a statement at the time.
“We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”
The 30-year-old had been under intense scrutiny since he wrote a social media post in which he offered a link to the film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America” (a 2018 film widely condemned for containing a range of anti- Semitic tropes) without any further context.
Irving took to Twitter this morning (AEDT), replying to The Athletic‘s Shams Charania who wrote about the Nike rupture with a GIF of the words “Let the party begin”.
Hours later, the 2016 NBA champion also posted a series of cryptic tweets including expressing his gratitude to supporters.
“Anyone who has even spent their hard earned money on anything I have ever released, I consider you FAMILY and we are forever connected. It’s time to show how powerful we are as a community,” he wrote in a tweet.
“To my Tribe: ‘I am because you are.’ I pour libations and pray for all of my people today and everyday. I am Hélà.”
Irving was suspended by the Nets as a result of his off-court actions for a minimum of five games until he completed a series of tasks, including anti-Semitic and sensitivity training. He eventually rejoined the team after eight games away.
In an interview following his return to the court, the 12-year NBA veteran insisted he was not anti-Semitic.
“I just really want to focus on the hurt that I caused or the impact that I made within the Jewish community, putting some type of threat, or assumed threat, on the Jewish community,” Irving told SNY‘s Ian Begley.
“I just want to apologise deeply for all my actions for the time that it has been since the post was first put up.”
The seven-time All-Star has appeared in 17 games this season, averaging 24.4 points, 4.4 assists, and 4.4 rebounds in 17 games for Brooklyn while shooting 32 per cent from deep.
Now, Irving is a free agent on the sneaker market for the first time in over a decade.
Under Armor and Adidas are definite options, but he finds himself at a crossroads now. The reputation he has built for himself may not be the type of player another brand is looking to sign.
With Irving having one of the most popular signature shoes in the NBA, not just for Nike, the global sportswear corporation will be eager to quickly find a replacement.
It is rumored Memphis Grizzlies player Ja Morant could be next in line to create a signature shoe with Nike, with the star point guard expected to soon receive a sneaker deal with the shoe company.
Both parties have reportedly been in talks for “several months”, meaning that the timing likely has little to do with Irving’s exit. However, Morant will have big shoes to fill with Irving out of the picture at Nike (Irving’s signature sneaker was the second-most popular shoe worn by NBA players last season).
A possible timeline for Morant’s sneaker officially hitting the shelves is hard to predict considering the varying length for development within the industry, however, Morant’s sneaker is expected to officially debut in Summer 2023, according to Business Insider‘s Matthew Kish.
“The athletic shoe development is usually a nine-to-18-month process,” the sportswear reporter said.
“Morant visited the Nike headquarters this past summer in Oregon. Along with a potential shoe, apparel, logos and a marketing campaign are some of the concepts that must be nailed down before a release.”