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Nike’s next target after axing star’s $17m deal

By Emily Patterson with AP

Kyrie Irving’s relationship with Nike is officially over, the shoe and athletic apparel maker has confirmed – a move that came a month after the company suspended the Brooklyn guard as part of the fallout over him tweeting a link to a film containing antisemitic material.

It was not a surprise breakup, especially after Nike co-founder Phil Knight said in the days after the company suspended Irving that he had doubts there would be any reconciliation.

“Kyrie Irving is no longer a Nike athlete,” the company said in a statement.

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Irving’s agent and stepmother, Shetellia Riley Irving, told The New York Times that both sides “mutually decided to part ways and we just wish Nike all the best.”

Irving, without mentioning Nike by name, appeared to address the matter on his Twitter account on Tuesday.

“Anyone who has even spent their hard-earned money on anything I have ever released, I consider you FAMILY and we are forever connected,” the Nets guard wrote.

“It’s time to show how powerful we are as a community.”

Irving has been wearing his signature line of Nike in recent games. It’s unknown if the formal ending of his relationship with Nike will affect that, at least in the short term.

Irving has had a signature line with Nike since 2014. The deal, worth approximately $17 million a year, is now set to be torn up with the Kyrie 8 basketball shoe to be pulled.

He had been a Nike athlete for the entirety of his NBA career, starting in 2011, and got his first signature shoe with the company in 2014.

When Nike suspended Irving in early November, the company was just days away from releasing the Kyrie 8 basketball shoe, what would have been the latest in his signature line.

The deal, worth approximately $17 million a year, is now in tatters with the Kyrie 8 to be pulled.

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of anti-Semitism,” the Beaverton, Oregon-based company said at the time.

Irving missed eight games before being reinstated by the Nets on November 20. He apologized that day to those who felt threatened or hurt when he posted a link to the documentary and acknowledged that he should have handled earlier chances to clarify whether he has antisemitic beliefs differently .

“I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or anti-Semitism or anything that is going against the human race,” Irving said on the day the Nets reinstated him.

Irving has expressed no shortage of controversial opinions during his career. He repeatedly questioned whether the Earth was round before eventually apologizing to science teachers. Last year, his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine led to him being banned from playing in most of the Nets’ home games.

With a gaping hole to be left in the signature shoe department at Nike, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant is rumored to be the next player to sign a trademark sneaker deal with the global sportswear corporation.

According to the Athletic’s Shams Charania, both parties have been in talks for “several months”.

As a result of the timing, the new line most likely had nothing to do with Irving’s axing.

While it is difficult to predict the exact schedule for when Morant’s sneaker will officially hit the market, Business Insider‘s Matthew Kish expects Morant’s sneaker to officially debut in summer 2023

“The athletic shoe development is usually a nine-to-18-month process,” Kish said.

“Morant visited the Nike headquarters this past summer in Oregon. Along with a potential shoe, apparel, logos and a marketing campaign are some of the concepts that must be nailed down before a release.”

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