The many conspiracy theories of Kyrie Irving
When a conversation between Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant became a viral video before the 2019 NBA All-Star Game, with online sleuths speculating that they were aligning their free-agency plans, which led them to the Brooklyn Nets four months later, Irving neither denied nor confirmed the contents of their discussion.
Instead, Irving went on the defensive.
"Anybody's stories or social media, I'm completely off it," he said. "I just don't have the care for it. It ruins locker rooms, it ruins confidence in people, and it's just a fictitious way of feeling validated in the world."
Irving added, "Is the internet real for you in your life?"
He had a point. The video was shared with dubious intent, its contents speculative. If only he had heeded his own advice in the years before and since that viral moment, as he disseminated a series of conspiracy theories, each more perilous than the last. It has culminated in his suspension from the Nets for promoting the film "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America" and refusing to condemn its anti-Jewish themes.
Irving's conspiratorial beliefs have coincided with his involvement in dismantling championship contenders in Cleveland, Boston and Brooklyn. Locker rooms and confidence at each stop have indeed been ruined.
Irving reportedly met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Tuesday "to discuss this situation." In order to return to the court, Irving must meet a list of requirements determined by his team. Conditions include a verbal apology that demonstrates a clear understanding of the film's harmful contents, sensitivity training, consultation with leaders in Brooklyn's Jewish community and a meeting with Nets owner Joe Tsai.
As we await a verdict on Irving's contrition, amid a report from veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein that "there is growing pessimism in various corners of the league that Kyrie Irving will ever play for the Nets again," it is important to consider how Irving arrived in his precarious position. There is a line that runs through Irving's conspiracy theories, from flat Eartherism to antisemitism, and it is one you can find in his Instagram feed.
A deep dive into the material is enough, at once, to sympathize with Irving's search for his cultural identity and condemn the aspect of his pursuit that attempts to erase the identity of other marginalized people.
There was a time in February 2017 when Irving's flat-Earth conspiracy theory was the biggest story in sports and maybe beyond. Irving first shared his beliefs in a jovial conversation with Cleveland Cavaliers teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye for their "Road Trippin'" podcast. Irving was relaxed, only appropriately taking himself seriously when he was discussing misinformation in the education system.
Irving doubled and tripled down on the flat-Earth theory, and then some, until he finally apologized for it at Forbes' Under 30 Summit in October 2018. In the 20 months between, he joined University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and fellow Duke University product J.J. Redick for their podcasts. Irving was a little more guarded, and yet even more convincing as an actual conspiracy theorist.
Seven months into his journey around the flat Earth, Irving said his intent behind sharing the theory was for everyone to "do your own research." He conducted his by "watching a whole bunch of Instagram videos."
"I can't even call them conspiracy theories," he told Redick, "because some of the things of just logic and common knowledge are there, and some of the pages I follow will actually list some of the laws and some of the things that have transpired throughout history, and they'll just give it to you almost like a History Channel of other things that aren't on History Channel or just specific detail that I was missing in life."
Lost in the 20-month discussion of Irving's flat-Earth theory were the other conspiracies he espoused during that time. There was the one about the CIA assassinating Bob Marley. There were several more that, in hindsight, seem like the start of the slippery slope that would steer him wrong over the next five years.
There were the "chemtrails," which, according to experts at Harvard University, refer to "the theory that governments or other parties are engaged in a secret program to add toxic chemicals to the atmosphere from aircraft in a way that forms visible plumes in the sky." Those "toxic chemicals," conspiracy theorists allege, induce "sterilization, reduction of life expectancy, mind control or weather control" on a global scale.
"They’ll give you stuff on the government, like geoengineering, chemtrails and everything else," said Irving, "and it makes you think. That was the beautiful thing about it. It actually made me think twice about s***."
There was also the one about the Federal Reserve's involvement in John F. Kennedy's assassination.
"He wants to end the bank cartel in the world, and all of a sudden 21 days [later] he's assassinated," Irving said, referencing the conspiracy floated by Jim Marrs in the book "Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy."
The plot in question centers on Executive Order 11110, which Marrs claimed was Kennedy's first step toward ending the Federal Reserve. (According to experts, the reverse is actually true, as Kennedy's order was "a technicality" during a transitional period that actually "enhanced Federal Reserve power" by 1964.)
Finally, there was the conspiracy featured in the film "Loose Change," which calls 9/11 an "inside job."
"Like, 'Loose Change,' some of the things that happened before that crazy attack, like you think back on history, and I’m just like, man. ... And of course people will be like, Who’s ‘they’? Everyone who has basically controlled us," Irving told Redick, who cut the diatribe short and steered the discussion elsewhere.
This idea of "they" is one Irving repeated often and explored in more detail during his flat-Earth phase.
"They create separation and race," he said, steering clear of specifying who he deems responsible. "They create separation and class. They create separation in different things that will ultimately spread people apart, and that's the way you control power. That's the way you control power in the whole entire world."
In the years between Irving's public entry into conspiratorial thought and his opposition to COVID-19 vaccination, which cost him all but 29 games of the 2020-21 season, he grew more confrontational with the media. The conviviality of his podcast conversations was gone, replaced by a sense that his search for truth was misunderstood, even as questions about his beliefs dissipated in the wake of his flat-Earth apology.
Then came news from Rolling Stone that Irving was among the leaders of the National Basketball Players Association who opposed the NBA's proposal for a vaccine mandate. In the exposé, Matt Sullivan wrote:
Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started 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 did not answer questions related to his vaccination status at Nets media day in September 2021, opting instead to address his decision to go unvaccinated several weeks later in an Instagram Live stream.
"You think I want to give up my livelihood because of a mandate? Because I don’t have accommodations? Because I’m unvaccinated? Come on. I’m not going to be used as a person in this agenda," he said, never citing whose "agenda" it is. "It’s not about the Nets. It’s not about the organization. It’s not about the NBA. It’s not politics. It’s not any one thing that I’m pinpointing. It’s just about the freedom of what I want to do.”
Two days earlier, "multiple sources with direct knowledge of Irving’s decision" similarly attempted to explain his side for The Athletic's Shams Charania in an article titled, "Kyrie Irving and his vaccine stance clarified."
"This is about a grander fight than the one on the court and Irving is challenging a perceived control of society and people’s livelihood, according to sources with knowledge of Irving’s mindset," Charania wrote.
When Mayor Eric Adams lifted New York's vaccine mandate for professional athletes in March, and Irving made his home debut last season, he was asked how he wanted people to remember his protest.
"Freedom," Irving told reporters in a cordial postgame news conference. "I don't think that's a word that gets defined enough in our society, about the freedom to make choices with your life without someone telling you what the f*** to do and whether that carries over to nuances of our society that politicians control, the government controls, or things people who are in power — the powers that may be — control."
Irving dove deeper into this notion of "a global agenda" and "control of society" in September, when he shared on Instagram a 2002 video of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and "Loose Change" executive producer who last month was ordered to pay $1 billion for defaming victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
“There is a tyrannical organization calling itself the New World Order…by releasing diseases and viruses and plagues upon us, we then basically get shoved into their system”
— Alex Jones 2002 clip posted by Kyrie Irving pic.twitter.com/3JYEnguEk5
— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) September 15, 2022
"Yes, there have been corrupt empires. Yes, they manipulate. Yes, there are secret societies. Yes, there have been oligarchies throughout history" Jones said in an abbreviated 42-second clip. "And yes, today in 2002, there is a tyrannical organization calling itself the New World Order, pushing for worldwide government, a cashless society, total and complete tyranny by centralizing and socializing healthcare, so the state becomes God, basically, when it comes to your health, and then by releasing diseases and viruses and plagues upon us, we basically get shoved into their system where human beings are absolutely worthless."
The clip was posted five days earlier, when it was shared on an account Irving follows that regularly posts conspiracy theories related to societal control, often in relation to 9/11, COVID-19 and something about eating bugs. Irving trended on Twitter for projecting the Jones clip to his millions of followers on social media, and he broached that subject during a Twitch stream the next day.
"Society tells us that ... 'You're trending on Twitter. You're gonna get canceled. Kyrie, I can't believe you posted that — how insensitive,'" Irving said. "Nah, bro. This has nothing to do with being insensitive. ... I honestly care what happens to humanity. I'm just not out here to lie. I'm just not — I don't want to lie."
He went on to describe himself as a leader in the fight against "a system" that "calls other human beings out all the time." Irving added, "We never look at the corporations that are actually the ones behind it."
"It's in enough documentaries. It's in enough books," he continued. "It's not a hidden secret that there's propaganda that the media does everything they can to convince you that your own opinions that you have are not valid, and you have to listen to a person report to you on TV or a person that you don't know report to you on Instagram for you to believe in the story or on what they're talking about. It's not secrets anymore. People want to control the majority of the world. It's not a secret, so they're going to do everything in their power. It's not a secret anymore, guys. It's out there in movies. They put it in everything. It's a lot of weird energy that's in our world that I don't stand for, because, to be honest with you, since I was a kid, I've always had an incredible intuition, and with incredible intuition comes a responsibility."
Kyrie reacts on Twitch:
"'You're trending on Twitter, you're gonna get cancelled. Kyrie I can't believe you posted that. How insensitive.’
“Nah bro it has nothing to do with being insensitive…I'm just not out here to lie…been lied to damn near my whole life…just tired of it" pic.twitter.com/Y8nhulXysy
— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) September 16, 2022
Six weeks passed before a reporter asked Irving about his support of Jones' New World Order conspiracy.
"I do not stand with Alex Jones' position, narrative, court case that he had with Sandy Hook, or any of the kids that felt like they had to relive trauma, or parents that had to relive trauma, or to be dismissive to all the lives that were lost during that tragic event," he told reporters on Oct. 29. "My post was a post from Alex Jones that he did in the early '90s or late '90s about secret societies in America of occults — and it's true."
It was that same news conference that Irving was also first asked by reporters about his tweet two days earlier that platformed the purported documentary, "Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America." A central theme of the three-plus-hour film is the conspiracy theory that Jewish people stole their identity from Black people, enslaved them and tricked Western culture into believing they are the true Israelites and Hebrews by assuming control of education, churches and the banking, media and entertainment industries.
"The mass media is the biggest tool of indoctrination, brainwashing and propaganda that the world has seen. For centuries, it has been helping Satan deceive the world, including the Christian church. Don't believe me?" Ronald Dalton Jr., the film's director and the author of a book by the same name, narrated, before sharing a baseless Harold Wallace Rosenthal quote that posits a Jewish plan to control the world.
"Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy. Satan is also the Father of Lies. Therefore after watching this film we should now know who is running the world," added Dalton, who also used an unsubstantiated Adolf Hitler quote and multiple excerpts from Henry Ford's "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem" as foundational arguments. "It is not a coincidence that the powers behind the Three Abrahamic Religions that enslaved our Israelite ancestors would also go through so much trouble to keep our identity a secret."
The film also touches on the notion that disease is another method of this controlling narrative.
A handful of Instagram accounts that Irving follows featured similar rhetoric in the days leading up to him sharing a link on Twitter to the still-platformed Amazon Prime film, including clips of current and former National of Islam leaders Louis Farrakhan and Khalid Abdul Muhammad, both of whom the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center have condemned for their long history of anti-Jewish sentiments.
"Everybody that's critical of Jewish people is called an antisemite, but that's not true. It's a term that they use to use their power with the media to garner hatred for you and to make you back down from telling the truth," Farrakhan said in a clip shared by an account that Irving follows on the same day he faced questions about the film from reporters. The clip includes a promotion for a Nation of Islam publication titled "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews: How Jews Gained Control of the Black American Economy."
It should have come as no surprise, then, that the exchange between Irving and reporters became confrontational when the subject turned to anti-Jewish sentiments contained within the film he shared.
"I don't expect understanding from a media conglomerate group that sincerely talks about the game of basketball, and then we talk about religion, as if it's correlative at times, when it's convenient for people to bring it up," Irving said in his Oct. 29 news conference, before adding that his mandated absence last season allowed him to watch and read "a whole bunch, good and bad about the truth of our world."
Asked last week if he held any antisemitic beliefs, Irving repeated, "I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from," referencing the film's theme, which conflates antisemitism with the history of Semitic people.
New World Order
There are two commonalities that run through Irving's five-year descent from embracing a relatively harmless flat-Earth theory to promoting an antisemitic film — his Instagram feed and the New World Order conspiracy espoused by Jones that the suspended Nets superstar has now twice endorsed as the truth.
It is all in there, every conspiracy wrapped into one — starting with the cabal behind the Federal Reserve and its involvement in the Kennedy assassination, continuing with chemtrails and COVID-19 for population control, and ending with global domination by an elite group of occultists, all of it wrapped in antisemitism.
The reason Jones and his fellow conspiracy theorists can gain so much notoriety is because it is so easy to fall back on their defense. Any criticism can be spun as more proof that non-believers are out to get them.
I'm not a conspiracy theorist, the thinking goes, I'm the target of your conspiracy.
As Yair Rosenberg wrote for The Atlantic in his thoughtful reflection on Kanye West's recent antisemitic remarks, "For Jews, this is a no-win scenario: If they stay silent, the anti-Semitism continues unabated; if they speak up, and their assailant is penalized by non-Jewish society, anti-Semites feel affirmed. Heads, the bigots win; tails, Jews lose. This is the cruel paradox that has perpetuated anti-Semitism for centuries."
Irving has dug his heels in when questioned by reporters about his conspiracies. It took him 20 months to concede the Earth is not flat. He still has yet to condemn specifics outlined in the film he shared. When he apologized on Instagram for promoting the film, he acknowledged a degree of defensiveness: "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."
It is one thing to apologize. It is another to understand why it is so important to categorically denounce the contents of the film, for fear that this conspiracy is the start of a slippery slope for those Irving influences.
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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach