A group of Utah rabbis was told to remove signs that declared “I’m a Jew and I’m proud” from a basketball game Monday because they were told it was causing a distraction for the players.
Rabbi Avremi Zippel, a long-standing Utah Jazz fan, was at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Monday night to see the team face the Dallas Mavericks.
He and three other rabbis took the signs to protest the involvement of Kyrie Irving, now a Mavericks player, who was suspended from the Brooklyn Nets in 2022 for tweeting a link to a movie widely considered to be antisemitic and for initially failing to disavow it.
The Anti-Defamation League rejected Irving’s subsequent donation of $500,000, and Nike severed its commercial ties with him.
Zippel said in a string of posts on X that Irving spotted the sign early in the first quarter and told him: “No need to bring that to a game.” Zippel said Irving then spoke to Mavericks security staff members before Jazz officials went to check the rabbis’ tickets and tell them to put the signs away.
A representative for Irving denied that the player complained about the sign and told NBC News that the Jazz and the arena simply followed its existing policy on signs.
“Mr. Irving, did not complain about the signage. It was the arena/Utah Jazz’s protocol to ask the courtside patrons to remove their signs,” the representative said.
The Jazz said in a statement that the signs were in breach of the team’s audience code of conduct, which maintains games must be played “without distraction or disturbance.”
“During an out-of-bounds play in the first quarter of yesterday’s Jazz game against the Dallas Mavericks, there was a group sitting courtside whose signs sparked an interaction with a player that created a distraction and interfered with the play of game,” the statement said.
The statement said a “part-time employee” who told the rabbis that the content of the signs was problematic was “incorrect.”
“The issue was the disruptive interaction caused by usage of the signs, not the content of the signs,” the statement said.
Zippel wrote Tuesday night on X that the Jazz took Irving’s side and that the team had cited a spurious policy to get the signs taken down.
“Bottom line: there was one person, in a building of 18,000+, that was triggered by sign that says ‘I’m a Jew and I’m proud,’ Why that bothers him so, to the point that it sparks an interaction, should be the real question anyone is asking,” Zippel said.
“Sadly, instead of just quietly chalking this up to a misunderstanding and letting this remain a small blip, the Jazz took the side of said triggered player and doubled down. That’s just disappointing to me.”
Zippel said in a separate statement Tuesday on X that he remains a lifelong Jazz fan and will remain a supporter.
He said in an interview with the Deseret News newspaper that the Jazz had shown strong support for the local Jewish community over the years.
The Jazz beat the Mavericks 127-90 in Monday’s game.
In 2022, Irving posted a link to the Amazon page of “Hebrews to Negroes,” a three-hour documentary based on a book of the same name, which, according to the ADL, argues modern Jews are imposters who stole the religious heritage of Black people. Irving often posts political slogans and images, as well as links to books, to his 4.7 million followers on X.
He returned to the Nets after his suspension and offered “deep regrets to anyone that felt threatened or felt hurt by what I posted,” saying that “that wasn’t my intent at all.”
In October 2022, eight Jewish fans wore shirts with the slogan “FIGHT ANTISEMITISM” to a Nets game while Irving was playing.
There have been reports of increased incidents of antisemitism across the U.S. since Israel’s war with Hamas began on Oct. 7, as well as a reported rise in anti-Muslim incidents.