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A Complete Guide to All the Controversies Surrounding NBA Finals Star Kyrie Irving

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All the Controversies Surrounding NBA Finals Star Kyrie Irving Explained
Kyrie Irving. Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks star Kyrie Irving has used a late career renaissance to propel his team to the NBA Finals, but his critics are quick to make sure he doesn’t totally outrun his controversial past. 

Irving, 32, and the Mavericks open the Finals against the Boston Celtics — his former team — on Thursday, June 6, with the 13-year NBA veteran averaging 22.8 points per game as the franchise attempts to win its first NBA Championship in 13 years. 

While the on-court prowess of Irving has been undeniably riveting, his legacy of off-court scandals follows him like a shadow. 

For a breakdown of Irving’s numerous controversies, keep reading: 

Flat Earth Conspiracy Theory

In February 2017, Irving revealed he believed the Earth to be flat. Irving first addressed his belief during an appearance on the “Road Trippin’ With RJ and Channing” podcast. 

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“The Earth is flat,” Irving said. When asked to expand, he said, “I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.”

The following year, Irving further discussed the Flat Earth theory during a June 2018 interview with The New York Times

“Can you openly admit that you know the Earth is constitutionally round?” he asked. “Like, you know that for sure? Like, I don’t know.”

Irving eventually softened his stance months later when asked about the issue at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. 

“At the time I didn’t realize the effect,” he said in October 2018. “I was definitely at that time, ‘I’m a big conspiracy theorist. You can’t tell me anything.’ I’m sorry about all that. For all the science teachers, everybody coming up to me like, ‘You know I have to reteach my whole curriculum!’ I’m sorry. I apologize. I apologize.”

JFK and Bob Marley Conspiracies 

According to a 2017 story in the The Boston Globe, Irving insinuated the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy was because he “sought to end the bank cartel in the world” and suggested the Federal Reserve had a hand in the plot.

All the Controversies Surrounding NBA Finals Star Kyrie Irving Explained
Kyrie Irving. Theo Wargo/WireImage

Irving also suggested that the CIA once attempted to “hire Jamaicans” to kill Bob Marley

Refusing the NBA Vaccination Mandates

In January 2022, Irving made it clear that he had no plans to get vaccinated against Covid, which prohibited him from playing in home games with his then-team, the Brooklyn Nets. 

“I’m just trying to be a person who is just being a beacon of hope and light and just trying to shed as much as I can on the situation without talking myself into more BS and what is going on in this political world that we’re in right now,” he said in a press conference. “I just don’t want to bring science into this.” 

He continued, “Man, if you were in my position, it would be easy for someone to say ‘Why don’t you just get vaccinated?’ But you’re not. I made my decision already and I’m standing on it.”

In September 2022, Irving called vaccine mandates like the ones imposed by the NBA “one of the biggest violations of HUMAN RIGHTS in history.”

“If I can work and be unvaccinated, then all of my brothers and sisters who are also unvaccinated should be able to do the same,” Irving wrote via X in September 2022, “without being discriminated against, vilified, or fired.”

That same month, a report in Rolling Stone said Irving had begun “following and ‘liking’ Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that ‘secret societies’ are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for ‘a plan of Satan.’”

Irving later revealed he turned down a four-year, nine-figure contract extension prior to the 2021-22 season due to his vaccination stance.

“I gave up four years, 100-and-something million deciding to be unvaccinated and that was the decision,” Irving said during Brooklyn Nets media day in September 2022. “[Get this] contract, get vaccinated or be unvaccinated and there’s a level of uncertainty of your future, whether you’re going to be in this league, whether you’re going to be on this team, so I had to deal with that real-life circumstance of losing my job for this decision.”

All the Controversies Surrounding NBA Finals Star Kyrie Irving Explained
Kyrie Irving. Fred Lee/Getty Images

Irving further explained that, in his opinion, the decision not to get vaccinated had become a stain on his legacy.

“I didn’t appreciate how me being vaccinated, all of a sudden, came to be a stigma within my career that I don’t want to play, or I’m willing to give up everything to be a voice for the voiceless,” Irving said. “And which I will stand on here and say that, that wasn’t the only intent that I had, was to be the voice of the voiceless, it was to stand on something that was going to be bigger than myself.”

Celtics Fans Get the Bird

During the Eastern Conference first round playoff series between Irving’s Nets and the Celtics — the team for which he played two seasons between 2017-2019 — he was relentlessly booed by the home fans in Boston during Game 1, which led to Irving giving the middle finger to the crowd.

In a video after the game, Irving was also seen telling a heckling fan to “suck my dick.”

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As Irving prepares for a return to Boston’s TD Garden for the NBA Finals, he reflected on the middle finger incident and said it “wasn’t a great reflection of who I am.”

“I’m built for these moments to be able to handle circumstances like that and I’ve been able to grow since then,” Irving said on Monday, June 3. 

Antisemitism Leads to a Suspension

In October 2022, Irving posted a link to the 2018 film Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America. The film, based on a 2015 book of the same name, promotes wildly insensitive conspiracy theories about the Jewish community and supports the idea that the Holocaust was fake. 

Two days later, Irving denied being antisemitic, saying the label was “not justified.” During his postgame media availability later that night, Irving told reporters, “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in. I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.”

On November 2, 2022, following widespread criticism, Irving made a donation of $500,000 to organizations combating religious hatred and said he opposes “all forms of hatred and oppression and stands strong with communities that are marginalized and impacted every day.”

However, the next day, Irving refused to give a definitive answer when asked whether he was antisemitic, saying instead, “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”

All the Controversies Surrounding NBA Finals Star Kyrie Irving Explained
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for MTV

That night, the Nets announced they had suspended Irving for five Games due to his “failure to disavow antisemitism when given a clear opportunity to do so” and “conduct detrimental to the team”.

After the suspension was announced, Irving took to Instagram to apologize in a lengthy statement. 

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“To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize,” his post read in part. “I initially reacted out of emotion to being unjustly labeled Anti-Semitic, instead of focusing on the healing process of my Jewish Brothers and Sisters that were hurt from the hateful remarks made in the Documentary.”

The post concluded, “I had no intentions to disrespect any Jewish cultural History regarding the Holocaust or perPetuate any hate. I am learning from this unfortunate event and hope we can find understanding between us all.”

In February 2023, Irving requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, and, two days later, he was sent to the Dallas Mavericks. 

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