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Kyrie Clash Puts Nike in Tight Spot

Friday was supposed to be the day Nike launched its Kyrie 8 Infinity shoe, a colorful basketball shoe bearing the name brand of one of the NBA’s most colorful players. 

But in the fallout of the controversy over Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving making a social media post promoting an antisemitic film and his subsequent suspension by the league, Nike has asked all retail partners not to sell what could be the most talked-about sneaker of the year. 

On Monday, Nike sent out an email to its vendors including Hibbett-owned City Gear ordering them to “Pull all Kyrie 8 models from the sales floor and place them in the back room” and to “not post anything on store social regarding any Kyrie 8 models,” Sports Illustrated reported. City Gear couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Nike cut ties with Irving last Friday issuing the following statement: “At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism…We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.” 

This came a day after Irving refused to apologize for his post promoting the 2018 film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America’ which reportedly recycles longstanding antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. Upon Irving’s refusal to apologize, the league suspended Irving, even as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated that he “had no doubt” that Irving did not believe Irving himself was an antisemite. 

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Irving dominated headlines last season by his refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine rendering him unable under New York City mandates to enter the Barclays Center where the Nets play their home games. 

Despite that controversy, Nike pushed ahead with the launch of the Kyrie 8, even as Irving expressed public displeasure at the design of the shoe, saying on social media: ‘I have nothing to do with the design or marketing of the upcoming #Kyrie8, IMO these are trash! I have Absolutely nothing to do with them! Nike plans to release it without my okay regardless of what I say, so I apologize in advance to all of my sneaker heads and true supporters of the #KAI11 brand.’ 

Beyond the hype Irving generates in the news cycle, the Kyrie shoe line remains popular as a product. A report by Boardroom.com found that the Kyrie Low 4 was far and away the most popular brand worn by WNBA players.  

Nike and Irving are unlikely to ever partner again, but the question remains what will become of all these shoes taking up space in storerooms nationwide, both in terms of sustainability and the bottom lines of the retailers who were counting on the revenue? 

Nike did not respond to questions along these lines on Friday. 

In a similar situation earlier this month, Adidas, after it cut ties with hip-hop artist Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, found itself stuck with millions of dollars in Yeezy rejects. It’s still deciding how to deal with the product and rebranding the goods isn’t out of the question.

Given the popularity of Nike products with shoplifters and criminals elsewhere in the brand’s supply chain, it would be far from surprising if sneaker-hungry suspects try to break into retailers holding unsellable Kyrie 8 stock. One streetwear boutique owner tried to thwart robbery attempts by storing just one sneaker, instead of a full pair, in each shoebox. A trio of suspects still managed to flee with thousands of dollars in merchandise and damaged the store.