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NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving said he “never had a doubt” he would return to the team after serving an eight-game suspension for what the Nets termed the “harmful impact of his conduct” relating to social media posts around a book and movie that contained antisemitic ideas.
Irving, who scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds in 26 minutes Sunday night as the Nets defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 127-115, was happy to be back on the floor with his teammates after missing over two weeks.
“It felt good,” Irving said. “It felt good. I missed my teammates, missed the coaching staff. … It felt good to get this game out of the way. Now we can move forward with the rest of the season.”
Irving, who apologized again earlier Sunday while reiterating that he is “not antisemitic,” was asked if he might file a grievance in the future regarding his suspension.
“I got to leave that to my legal team and leave that to the warriors I have around me,” Irving said. “I have some strong people, men and women around me, that are going to do everything possible to make sure that I’m protected, my family’s protected, and we protect one another. So I’m sure some things will be done in the future, but there’s no timetable on that right now.”
Irving, who said he wanted to keep the focus on the game and deflected a handful of questions regarding off-the-court issues, was asked after the game how he intends to balance when to use his voice and platform.
“I would like to be on a platform where I could openly share how I feel without being harshly criticized, or being labeled,” Irving said. “Or dealing with outside perceptions that have nothing to do with me.”
As fans arrived at Barclays Center before Sunday’s game, they were greeted by dozens of people from Israel United in Christ outside the building. Many within the group — which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — handed out flyers that had “The Truth About Anti-Semitism” and “The Truth about Slavery” as headlines. Boston Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown retweeted a video of the group with the caption: “Energy.”
Brown later wrote in a tweet that he “was not aware of what specific group that was outside of Barclay’s Center tonight. I was celebrating the unification of our people welcoming the return of Kyrie to the court, first glance I thought it was a known fraternity the (C/Que’s) Omega psi phi (step’n) showing support.”
“I think that’s a conversation for another day,” Irving said, when asked about the demonstration. “I’m just here to focus on the game.”
As far as the game, Nets players and coaches were just happy to have him back on the floor and have the focus be on basketball, instead of the issues that have swirled around both Irving and the team since his suspension on Nov. 3.
“It’s always nice to just focus on the game,” Nets forward Kevin Durant said. “We understand the circumstances around our game now. Our league is getting bigger, there’s so much attention on it, so every little thing might get blown up nowadays, so as much as we can just focus on playing ball and keep growing as a team, I think our fans can get behind that. I think you guys will get behind that as well. So we just want to keep stacking up good days, see what happens.”
Nets swingman Ben Simmons summed up how several of his teammates felt about Irving’s return.
“It’s Kyrie, he’s so talented,” Simmons said. “Obviously, he’s working on the handle again, trying to get a feel for the ball, but he’s so talented it’s easy to play with him.”