Playing for the first time since his split with Nike, Kyrie Irving wanted to convey an important message Wednesday night, announcing to the sneaker world that he’s single and ready to mingle. The All-Star point guard began his post-Nike career by blacking out the “Swoosh” logo on his sneakers, replacing it with a cheeky hand-written message reading, “I AM FREE.”
Up until Monday, when the popular clothing brand officially severed ties with him, Irving had been a Nike athlete his entire career, collaborating on countless projects including the most recent model of his signature sneaker, the Kyrie 8. Nike’s relationship with Irving had grown strained, stemming from his criticism of the last shoe they made together, which he condemned as “trash.”
The final straw, however, was Irving’s public meltdown earlier this season, spreading hate speech and misinformation by bringing attention to Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, an antisemitic documentary available on Amazon. When confronted about it, an unrepentant Irving dug in his heels, only apologizing after the Nets suspended him for eight games.
In response, Nike scrapped his upcoming shoe release while suspending their relationship indefinitely. When asked if he’d ever work with Irving again, Nike founder Phil Knight admitted a reconciliation was unlikely, telling CNBC, “Kyrie stepped over the line, it’s kind of that simple.”
Irving, who poured in 33 points on efficient 14-of-24 shooting against the Hornets Wednesday night (his highest point total since being reinstated November 20th), is clearly open for business, though it’s doubtful anyone will come calling until his latest controversy blows over, if it ever does.