How Kyrie Irving burnt bridges with Nike and signed with Chinese brand ANTA

Kyrie Irving is one of basketball's most polarizing figures, but his controversial antics caused Nike to blacklist him for good.

NBA player Kyrie Irving Visits Anta Museum
NBA player Kyrie Irving Visits Anta Museum / Fred Lee/GettyImages
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Since being drafted first overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, Kyrie Irving has established himself as of the NBA's most crafty and accomplished point guards of his generation. A career which thus far has earned him a Rookie of the Year award in 2012, multiple-time appearances as an All-NBA member, eight All-Star selections, and a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

But aside from becoming one of the NBA's most dynamic stars, Kyrie has arguably become of the league's most controversial personalities. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, however, Irving has made and associated himself with some very daring conspiracy theories. The first of which to come to public light was his "flat earth" claims in a podcast back in 2017. It was certainly a bold claim by the NBA star, one which he admitted to regretting, but nothing could prepare Kyrie's PR image for what was to come.

Kyrie Irving's outspoken views landed him in hot water with many parties.

The COVID-19 pandemic completely transformed the world people once knew, and once vaccines for the virus were made available, there were many who were skeptical and defensive against mandatory sanctions. Kyrie Irving was one such outspoken critic as his stance on freedom of choice against obligatory vaccinations in New York cost him a majority of the 2021-22 NBA season. Irving clarified that he wasn't "anti-vax" but instead explained he was “standing with all those that believe what is right”, and he was “about being true to what feels good for me.”

You could certainly respect Kyrie's response to the vaccination questions, but it was an ill-advised Twitter post that eventually soured NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, the Brooklyn Nets, and his endorsement deal with Nike. Kyrie was accused of "antisemitic" beliefs after linking a controversial documentary, though he apologized not long after. Apologies or not, it wasn't enough for Nike to forgive Kyrie as they severed all ties by terminating their contracted deal immediately following the Twitter aftermath.

Needless to say, Kyrie was relatively unfazed by the whole ordeal. Kyrie remained without a signature shoe brand for a while, until he announced in July 2023 that he was signing a deal with Chinese sportswear brand, ANTA, and also taking position as a company executive.

In an almost poetic culmination of events, Kyrie debuted his inaugural ANTA signature sneaker, the KAI 1's in a Mavericks matchup against his former Brooklyn team. You can say what you want, ANTA is definitely a miniscule competitor versus a dominant brand like Nike, but you have to respect Kyrie's devotion to his beliefs and stances. And it seems like he's doing quite well for himself despite causing an uproar and burning a few bridges over the years.

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