Behind Progressive DA Candidate Tahanie Aboushi’s Courtside Hug With Kyrie Irving

This is a special free preview of The Uprising, a daily politics newsletter. If you enjoyed this story and want to read more like it, please sign up!

After the Brooklyn Nets routed the Milwaukee Bucks to take a 2-0 lead in the second round of the NBA playoffs on Monday night, the team’s star point guard, Kyrie Irving, walked across the court and exchanged a hug with Tahanie Aboushi, a progressive criminal justice reformer running for Manhattan district attorney, whom he had invited to the game. 

TNT broadcast cameras caught the moment, highlighting both Aboushi’s campaign ahead of the crowded Democratic primary on June 22 and Irving’s understated commitment to social justice activism. Aboushi, an experienced civil rights attorney, spoke with The Uprising about her political platform and how she went from having a “Zoom friendship” with Irving to finding herself courtside with celebrities at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“Our campaign has been in contact with Kyrie's team for a while,” Aboushi said. “He joined one of our volunteer events a while ago. He's always been a supporter of our campaign and, obviously, social justice and racial justice issues are really important to him and our campaign attracted him.”

When they hugged after the game, Irving gave Aboushi the jersey he wore while masterfully scoring 22 points and helping the Nets demolish the Bucks. (Full Disclosure: Your humble Uprising correspondent is a diehard Nets fan, and Kyrie Irving is my favorite player.)

A spokesperson for Irving declined to comment on this story. The Nets star is no stranger to activism, though he often prefers somewhat understated forms of engagement that come without public statements. Irving, who is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Native American tribe through his mother, donated $100,000 to the community as they fought construction of an oil pipeline on tribal lands in 2017. Irving has worn clothing to games alluding to the Black Lives Matter movement and helped produce a documentary on Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in her Louisville, Kentucky home last year. And Irving’s company has focused on working with “minority, woman-owned, and underrepresented businesses,” including through a consulting firm he launched in May. Irving has occasionally been outspoken about social justice issues, including last year when Irving — who was elected vice president of the NBA Player’s Association — spoke out against the league returning to play amid the nationwide protests over police killings of Black Americans. 

Aboushi, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants, told The Uprising she believes Irving’s commitment to social and racial justice is what drew him to her campaign.

“I think something that's important to remember is that regardless of the levels we reach in life, I'm still a Muslim woman that wears a hijab, he's a black man in America,” she explained. “I think that's why my campaign brings together people from all walks of life … because there's a different experience for people of color in America and, for me, racial justice is a big part of our campaign and something I want to address.”

Aboushi also discussed her political platform and its roots in her family’s unique story with The Uprising. The full interview is in today’s issue of the newsletter, which is exclusively available to paying subscribers.

The hug with Irving wasn’t Aboushi’s only celebrity encounter of the evening: Her courtside seat was right next to actor Bradley Cooper. Aboushi said she didn’t realize who he was at first. 

“He was sitting next to me the whole time,” Aboushi said of Cooper. “A ball almost came to my face — he like did his reaction and blocked it for me and then was like, ‘Don't worry. I got you.’ And I was like, ‘Cool, thanks man.’ I didn't even notice him because he had the mask on and the hat on.”

Aboushi realized she was next to Cooper when a cameraman came by and filmed him for the jumbotron.

“I got nervous all of a sudden!” she said.