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NETS 2021: Adam Silver hopes Kyrie Irving gets vaxxed, but absence not a ‘league issue’

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In his annual season opening press conference Monday, Adam Silver said he hopes that Kyrie Irving will ultimately get vaccinated but that the issue is between the Nets and the city of New York. It is not a “league issue,” the commissioner argued.

Before addressing Irving’s situation, Silver said that he would have preferred a mandate that covered every NBA player, but the players union, the NBPA, declined. The NBA’s referees and team staff are both covered by mandates.

“I won’t try to speak for [the NBPA], other than the view that some players had, I think — including maybe some players who are vaccinated — that it should be an individual choice among the players,” Silver said said during the conference, which was again conducted virtually because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would have preferred that ultimately that the Players Association agreed to mandatory vaccinations. The officials’ union agreed to mandatory vaccinations, despite opposition from some of their members. But ultimately I think we could have avoided a lot of the adversarial nature of these issues for our players. It’s not so much with the league. I think that gets confused in some cases.

“This is between Irving and New York City right now. This is not a league issue ... but I think it would have been best for everyone if every player were vaccinated.”

Irving is one of about a dozen NBA players who have declined to get at least one COVID-19 shot but the only one who is not permitted to play because of New York’s indoor venue rules that prohibit players not just from playing but entering the team’s arena.

Silver was asked about the disparity in the city’s executive order that permits unvaccinated opponents to play but not the home team players like Irving. The order exempts those players who like Bradley Beal, Michael Porter Jr. and Jonathan Isaac have declined to be vaccinated.

“I’m not sure if fair is the right way to approach it because there’s nothing fair about this virus,” Silver said. “It’s indiscriminate in terms of who it impacts, and I think it’s perfectly appropriate that New York and other cities have passed laws that require people who both work and visit arenas to be vaccinated. That seems to be a responsible public health decision made by those locales, and those are the circumstances in which the Nets find themselves operating.

“I accept that. I think that we understand as a league we have to play the cards that are dealt, just in the same way there are variations from market to market. I know there are players in some markets who would prefer that their local governments pass ordinances requiring that all the fans be vaccinated who are in the buildings with them.”

“We’ll see how it plays out,” the commissioner added. “I mean, frankly, I hope that Kyrie sort of — despite how strongly he feels about the vaccination — ultimately decides to get vaccinated, because I’d love to see him play basketball this season, and I’d love to see the Brooklyn Nets have their full complement of players on the floor.”

As Tim Bontemps noted, Silver said he’s heard nothing about the possibility of New York City relaxing its vaccine mandate at any point during the upcoming season. Short of being vaccinated, that’s the only way Irving could get back on the court.

Silver also noted that while the NBA has encouraged its players to speak out on social issues, there is a distinction here that he thinks is lost.

“I think that gets lost sometimes, that having an opinion about whether to get vaccinated is different than your right to play NBA basketball,” Silver said. “We’re seeing that, for example, in the New York market right now, when there’s a conflict with a player’s point of view and the local law, and the local law is going to trump that player’s point of view.

“I’ve always tried to ensure that players feel comfortable using this platform that the league affords them. I don’t mean literally the league. Just by being a famous NBA player, that they use it responsibly, that they educate themselves on points of view, but they also are respected in return.”

“I hope that to the extent that players continue to express points of view on a variety of topics that those points of view are respected,” Silver continued. “Again, that doesn’t mean that either the league will necessarily agree with them or fans will, but that fans will respect them for doing that, as long as it doesn’t cross certain lines of vulgarity or hate speech ... there’s obviously some other categories where people shouldn’t go as representatives of this league.”

Silver spoke as well on other topics.

  • On expansion: “Nothing new to report on expansion. We want to be fully through the pandemic (before taking it up again) ... “I don’t think there’s any doubt at some point we will take a very serious look at expansion.” He said the league would give consideration to Seattle which the NBA abandoned nearly a decade ago. Other rumored possibilities have been Las Vegas, Kansas City and Mexico City, where the league has established both a G League team and an NBA2K team in the last year.
  • On China: “It’s unclear,” said Adam Silver In answer to CNBC’s Jabari Young who asked about whether NBA will be back on CCTV5, the Chinese state TV sports channel, this season. Broadcasts were pulled in 10/19 after Daryl Morey tweet. Says revenue projections don’t depend on CCTV5 coverage. The league is on TenCent, the big Chinese streaming service.
  • On the league’s investigation into tampering allegations. Silver said the probe into possible tampering by the Chicago Bulls in their sign-and-trade deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Lonzo Ball and the Miami Heat in their sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors for Kyle Lowry was “ongoing.” No indication of when results will be disclosed.

Silver will next hold a wide-ranging press conference at the All-Star Break in February.