““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.””
That was Nike
co-founder and chairman Phil Knight, making his first public comments about severing the athletic apparel giant’s business deal with Brooklyn Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving during an interview with CNBC.
And their relationship is “likely over,” he said.
Nike announced in November that it has “suspended” its relationship with Irving, and scraped plans to release his next signature shoe, after Irving tweeted a link to a film containing antisemitic material.
The Nets suspended Irving for at least five games without pay after he “refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs” during a recent press conference.
Many NBA players have endorsement deals with Nike, but only the top players, like Irving, get their own signature shoe. Irving was one of five NBA players who had a signature shoe deal with Nike, and had one of the brand’s most popular basketball sneakers.
“I would doubt that we go back” to revisiting a deal with Irving in the future, Knight said in the interview. “But I don’t know for sure.”
Irving first signed with Nike in 2011 when he joined the NBA , and scored his first signature shoe in 2014. His annual endorsement earnings from Nike were worth at least $11 million, ESPN reported.
This is not the first time that Irving has been at risk of losing a significant amount of money due to his off-court behavior. Irving forfeited more than $13 million in his Nets salary for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in 2021, according to data from Spotrac. Irving suggested the number was much higher while speaking at a Nets media day in September, however. “I gave up four years, $100-something million deciding to be unvaccinated,” he said.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that he doesn’t believe Irving is antisemitic, but added, “whether or not he is antisemitic is not relevant to the damage caused by the posting of hateful content.”
“We look at who we sign and how much we pay and we look not only at how good the athlete is but what his or her character are,” Knight said. “It’s not an exact science, but it’s a process that we go through with a lot of intensity and with a lot of people sticking their hand in it.”
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