David Stern, the legendary NBA commissioner who served in his position for 30 years, is responsible for quite a few changes in the world's best basketball league.
Among other things, Stern adopted a business model that divides the players into "regulars" and "superstars," those who the audience mainly buys tickets to see.
The “superstars” have enjoyed celebrity perks in many areas – from the referees’ special treatment in the games (after all, you can’t call fouls on the star player who will have to sit on the bench, while many of the viewers came to the game mainly to watch him play), to turning a blind eye to personal entanglement of one kind or another.
But today, Stern's successor, Adam Silver (both of whom are Jewish, by the way) is faced with the dilemma: How do you handle a superstar and basketball genius who expresses antisemitic views?
A lot has been written about Kyrie Irving's exploits in recent times. His demand this week to take down signs with the inscription, "I am a proud Jew," at the Utah Jazz basketball team's home court was just another act in a chain of actions that mainly testify to one thing – the star of the Dallas Mavericks hates Jews and the State of Israel.
He made it clear when he promoted an antisemitic film that claimed African Americans in the U.S. are the descendants of the children of Israel, while today's Jews are actually usurpers who stole a culture and identity to which they do not belong at all. After Irving shared the promotion for the film on social networks, his team at the time – the Brooklyn Nets, suspended him after only five games, in what appeared to be mainly an attempt to remove the issue from the public agenda and simply move on.
In an event that again escaped the notice of the league management, just four days after the horrific and merciless massacre that Hamas carried out against Israelis in the Gaza Envelope, Irving approached a man holding a Palestinian flag and demonstratively hugged him. Days later, he appeared at a press conference after a game with a keffiyeh on his head; no one asked him for explanations but the answer was probably obvious to many.
Irving, who converted to Islam in recent years, reserves hatred for Judaism and Israel only. He has no problem doing business with other countries which, in complete contrast to Israel, oppress their citizens. Evidently, he had no problem signing a multimillion-dollar contract with the Chinese shoe manufacturer ANTA recently. Shortly after the announcement of the collaboration between him and the "human rights knight" from China, Irving tweeted footage from the funeral of a Palestinian youth.
In the week that Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned, after an embarrassing congressional hearing in which she twisted in every possible way to avoid condemning in a clear and direct way manifestations of antisemitic violence on campus, the question arose whether it is possible to impose significant sanctions on an antisemitic basketball prodigy?
In his three years in office, Silver, unlike Stern, initiated moves (mainly related to the game itself) designed to blur the division of players into classes and to lead uniform refereeing as much as possible, but it seems that in matters of unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism the league management still has a long way to go.
One thing is certain; from the point of view of the management, the determining factor has to do with money and public relations as opposed to any ethical issues.
The story becomes even more sensitive in light of the fact that Miriam Adelson, the widow of the tycoon Sheldon Adelson, is the new owner of the Dallas Mavericks. The league management recently approved the sale of Dallas for $3.5 billion.
Adelson has expressed disdain for any expressions of antisemitism on more than one occasion. It is quite possible that her opinions will be put to the test soon – since it is not very likely that one of the biggest stars of her new team will change his ways.
Alex Nirenburg is a correspondent for KAN 11 news.