The multimillion-dollar partnership between Nike and NBA star Kyrie Irving is officially over, the sneaker giant confirmed to Forbes, finalizing the breakup a month after the company pulled Irving’s upcoming sneaker after he pushed antisemitic content, and once again proving Irving’s willingness to lose out on millions to express his oft-controversial views.
“Kyrie Irving is no longer a Nike athlete,” a company spokesperson wrote to Forbes Monday afternoon, confirming an earlier report from the Athletic’s Shams Charania.
The formal dissolution comes a month after Nike suspended ties with Irving and pulled the Kyrie 8 shoes less than a week before its scheduled release.
Irving seemingly took the breakup in stride, tweeting a GIF with the text, “There’s nothing more priceless than being free,” 10 minutes after Charania’s report.
Irving signed with Nike as a rookie in 2011, with his first signature shoe debuting in 2014, and his $11 million in annual income from Nike in 2019 was among the 10 largest shoe deals in the NBA as of that year, according to Forbes’ estimates.
$17 million. That’s how much Irving netted in endorsements last year, according to Forbes’ estimates, largely from his Nike deal.
In late October, Irving posted a link to a film on Amazon riddled with deeply antisemitic tropes about Jews and later refused to say whether he held antisemitic beliefs, landing him an 8-game suspension without pay, missing out on about $3.6 million in salary. Irving’s antisemitism controversy came at the same time as rapper Kanye West unleashed a series of violently antisemitic tirades, losing his own sneaker deal with Nike rival Adidas in the process. West posted an image of Irving to his Instagram shortly after the basketball player’s controversial tweet, deeming Irving a “real one.”
Irving is no stranger to forfeiting millions for his off-court beliefs. Irving, who refused to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in protest of vaccine mandates, was ineligible to play in most of Brooklyn’s home games last year and lost out on roughly $10 million in his 2021-22 salary until New York City’s guidelines changed.
The Irving controversy has not posed a major threat to Nike: Its stock has actually risen about 30% since Irving first posted a link to the antisemitic film, and the company can still fall back on its deep roster of athlete endorsers, including the only billionaire active athletes, LeBron James and Tiger Woods, and the most-followed person on Instagram, Cristiano Ronaldo.