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Nets, Liberty and Gov. Hochul partner on new Covid-19 vaccine initiative

New York Governor Kathy Hochul — standing behind a podium on Brooklyn’s ornate new alternate court — announced a new vaccine initiative that will once again put the Nets and their owners, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, in the forefront of the state’s campaign against COVID-19.

Hochul, who thanked the organization for its continuing support of the state’s COVID response, added that she thought the Nets did the right thing in telling Kyrie Irving to stay home ... but did not tie the day’s events to Irving’s situation.

With a number of school children, who will be the next group to be vaccinated, looking on, Hochul announced that New Yorkers jabbed at the Nets vaccination center across Flatbush Avenue in the former Modell’s store would receive two tickets to Nets games or other Barclays Center events, such as concerts or New York Liberty games.

The announcement was specifically made to promote vaccinations among youth, as was first reported by NetsDaily. It came two hours before a Centers for Disease Control panel endorsed the Pfizer two-shot protocol for children aged 5 to 11 and five hours before the CDC Director approved its use. Children could start getting the shot as soon as this week, said the CDC. The Nets tweeted out word that its initiative would begin Wednesday...

Although the governor did not specifically identify childhood vaccinations as the impetus for the latest initiative, all the optics, including the presence of the Ascend Public Charter Schools students in that age group, made it clear that is was.

“You’ve been hearing about all of the adults getting their vaccination, maybe some of your older siblings,” Gov. Hochul said to the students. “But right now, we’re just about to hear the news that it’s okay for five to 11-year-olds.”

Here’s the full video of the announcement...

Also present were Lt. Governor of New York State Brian Benjamin, CEO of BSE Global John Abbamondi, Nets player Bruce Brown and New York Liberty players Betnijah Laney and DiDi Richards. Brown was spotted playing with kids afterwards. Neither he nor the Liberty players spoke at the announcement. Brown along with Blake Griffin have appeared in a pro-vaccine PSA.

Of course, who wasn’t there was also significant. Irving’s vaccination status has prevented him from taking the court with the rest of the Nets this season. Moreover, he’s become the face of the anti-vaccination movement, whether he wants it or not. Irving’s status did not come up during the announcement, but Hochul was clear in her comments afterwards that the Nets were right to exile Irving.

“I think the message is that the team itself supports vaccinations,” said Hochul. “The vast, vast, vast majority of their players are vaccinated, and they’re here to support making sure that members of the community are vaccinated. That’s the takeaway from today’s event.”

The vaccine requirement that’s keeping Irving off the court is a city mandate, not a state one. (Hochul was asked about why non-vaccinated opponents’ players can play at Barclays while Irving cannot. The governor misstated that was “league policy” when in fact it’s part of the city’s mandate.)

Joe and Clara Wu Tsai continue to be extremely supportive of the community vaccine effort, having set up testing and vaccination centers like the one at the Modell’s site and in the early days of the pandemic, acquiring and providing 2,000 ventilators to state and city. They also paid workers more than $10 million while Barclays Center was shuttered. Individually, Joe Tsai has been vaccinated against COVID-19 four times, twice with the Chinese Sinovac vaccine and twice with Pfizer.

In her remarks to the media, Hochul and Benjamin made clear that it was Tsai and the Nets who reached out to the state. According to a team insider, the idea for the initiative was broached during a meeting the Tsai’s and Abbamondi had with the lieutenant governor and came together quickly. The group has a number of connections.

Hochul was non-committal about whether improvements in the city and state’s virus situation would change the health and safety protocols that are keeping Irving off the court and out of the practice facility.

The governor said 87.7 percent of New Yorkers over the age of 18 have gotten at least one shot, and 76.7 percent are now fully vaccinated, but she said there’s no “magic number” that would end of modify restrictions.

“We don’t have a magic number,” said Hochul. “We’re not going to pretend we do. That is something we’ll be relying on the (Centers for Disease Control) to tell us. But I’m very anxious to end the era of masking or to show a vaccination card to go get a burger at Shake Shack.”

Was this a “message” to Irving? Hardly. The Tsais have long been committed to the vaccination process. This is just another example.