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Verbal exchange at Utah Jazz game misses the point

A rabbi and a player disagree over a sign that said: “I’m a Jew and I’m Proud,” with the letter “o” being replaced by a Star of David.

Chabad Rabbi Avremi Zippel (left) outside a Utah Jazz basketball game on Jan. 1, 2023. Source: X/Avremi Zippel.
Chabad Rabbi Avremi Zippel (left) outside a Utah Jazz basketball game on Jan. 1, 2023. Source: X/Avremi Zippel.

A rabbi says he was asked to put away a sign expressing his Jewish pride at a Utah Jazz game on New Year’s Day after an interaction with player Kyrie Irving, who has a history of antisemitic postings on social media.

In postings on social media, Rabbi Avremi Zippel, who serves as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Salt Lake City, recounted the events that led to him and those with him being asked to put away their signs. On Monday night, he, his father and two others were sitting courtside at the Delta Center as the Utah Jazz took on the Dallas Mavericks.

The tickets, Zippel noted, were a gift from a community member who is also a Holocaust survivor.

Among the Mavericks players was point guard Irving, who was suspended in 2022 after posting antisemitic material on social media and failing to condemn antisemitism. At the time, Irving was with the Brooklyn Nets and stated that he had no animus against Jews.

Initially, Zippel said, no one seemed to have an issue with the signs, which said: “I’m a Jew and I’m Proud,” with the letter “o” being replaced by a Star of David. “Arena security was stationed 24 inches from my chair. He said nothing,” Zippel wrote on his Instagram.

According to the rabbi, things changed in the middle of the first quarter when, in the midst of play, Irving, saw the sign and reportedly told Zippel, “ ‘I’m Jewish, too,’ ” and showed the rabbi his Star of David tattoo. Zippel said he then wished the basketball star a Happy New Year, and in response, Irving told him, “Don’t got to bring that to a game.”

Soon afterwards, a security guard approached Zippel’s group and asked to see their tickets. They were asked to put away their signs as they are not allowed courtside.

On his social-media post, Zippel stated that Jazz employees told him that the request for them to take down the signs was made “after Kyrie Irving saw the signs, verbally commented on them to us and complained to Dallas security.”

The Delta Center website states that “hand-held signs and posters” are allowed at most shows and events at the venue “unless specified by team, event and/or arena management.”

Among the rules for signs are a size requirement; they can be no larger than 11×17 inches and “must be related to the show and not contain obscene or offensive language or pictures.”

In a statement, the Utah Jazz said that their “Code of Conduct is in place so that games can be played without distraction and disruption. No matter where someone is in the arena, if a sign becomes distracting or sparks an interaction with a player, we will ask them to remove it.”

“During an out-of-bounds play in the first quarter of [Monday’s] Jazz game against the Dallas Mavericks, there was a group sitting courtside whose signs sparked an interaction with a player that created a distraction and interfered with play of game,” the statement continued. “As the next step in standard security protocol, the fans were asked to take down their signs.”

“The part-time employee who told the fans it was the content of the sign that was the problem was incorrect. The issue was the disruptive interaction caused by usage of the signs, not the content of the signs,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for the basketball team confirmed to JNS that the player in question was Irving, though the decision to have the signs removed was made by Utah Jazz officials.

Late Tuesday evening, Zippel took to X and responded to the statement, writing in part: “Bottom line: there was one person, in a building of 18,000+, that was triggered by sign that says ‘I’m a Jew and I’m proud.’ Why that bothers him so, to the point that it sparks an interaction, should be the real question anyone is asking.”

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