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Nike Controversy: Ja Morant Gun Drama Sparks New Questions

Less than four months after it dropped Kyrie Irving from his endorsement deal, Nike finds itself embroiled in a fresh controversy as Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, who was tapped to succeed Irving in the Swoosh brand hierarchy is now in hot water.

The Grizzlies announced Saturday night that Morant, a fourth-year guard out of Murray State, would be suspended the next two games and possibly longer after an Instagram video came to light showing him to be brandishing a gun at a Denver nightclub following the Grizzlies’ 113-97 road loss to the Nuggets on Friday night.

“We are aware of a social media post involving Ja Morant and are investigating,” the NBA said in a release on Saturday, leaving open the possibility of further punishment from the league.

Morant’s agent Jim Tanner released the following statement on behalf of his client Saturday night: “I take full responsibility for my actions last night. I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire Grizzlies organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”

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Morant deleted his Instagram page Saturday night after the live video was posted after 5 a.m. ET—3 a.m. in Denver—early Saturday morning.

The viral video was not Morant’s first recent incident. Last Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Morant had allegedly displayed a gun in his waistband to a teenager on his property after an altercation during a pick-up game. In another incident, Morant and nine others arrived at a Finish Line store responding to a situation involving Morant’s mother and on Jan. 29, the star’s entourage was accused of harassing an Indiana Pacers traveling party.

Unlike Irving, whose behaviors that caused him to lose his endorsement deal were not criminal, Morant enjoyed the full support of the Just Do It brand, which after the revelation of the video said it was standing by the Grizzlies star.

“We appreciate Ja’s accountability and that he is taking the time to get the help he needs. We support his prioritization of his well-being,” Nike said in a statement.

Nike cut ties with the then-Brooklyn Nets, now-Dallas Mavericks guard Irving in November after he posted a link to an anti-semitic film on social media and refused to apologize later, causing him to be suspended five games by the NBA.

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8,” Nike said in a statement at the time. “We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

At NBA All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City Feb. 15-17, Morant ascended as Nike’s brand ambassador with the unveiling of his Nike Ja 1 shoe, which is slated to go on sale to the public April 1 at a retail price of $110.

Nike’s decision to cut ties with Irving came just a week before the sneaker giant was set to release the Kyrie 8 line. The company decided to pull the plug on the release and ordered all retailers to shelve all of the product and to “not post anything on store social regarding any Kyrie 8 models.” 

At the time, Nike did not respond to Sourcing Journal questions as to what became of the tens of thousands of basketball shoes.

Nike did not immediately respond to Sourcing Journal requests for comment on the Morant situation in light of its decision on Irving.

Irving celebrated his departure from Nike in his first game back from his suspension, covering up the hallowed Nike Swoosh symbol with duct tape and writing on it in gold metallic marker: “I AM FREE Thank you God … I AM,” and on the other side wrote, “Logo here.”

A detail of the shoes of Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets during the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center on
December 9, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)