clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

National commentators slam Kyrie Irving on vaccine stand, privacy claim

2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving says being a distraction is the last thing he wants to do. Not everyone believes that.

Across the Internet Tuesday, national writers like Mahoney of the AP and Bryant of ESPN excoriated the Nets guard for his anti-vaccine stand ... including his decision not to discuss it. One after another, from Sally Jenkins, a Washington Post columnist, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, speaking on CNN, and beyond, the language was tough.

Jenkins was doubtlessly the toughest, the most devastating...

Kyrie Irving is too smart for you. He’s so smart, he can outwit germs and governments. He’s so smart, you can’t understand a word he’s saying. That’s how smart he is. His genius is utterly indecipherable to you and me, and while you may wish for some insight into the exquisite, diamond-chip workings of his multifaceted mind, you are not entitled to them because he prefers to keep them “private.”

Irving is so smart that everything he says sounds like a mystery unless it’s a contradiction. “I’m a human being first,” he said in refusing to share whether he is vaccinated against the coronavirus or to comment on whether he is anti-vaccine, as has been reported, a stance that could imperil other human beings because the vaccines reduce the chance of spread.

Jenkins also cites Abdul-Jabbar, who in his long career and after, has been a leader in civil rights and athletes’ empowerment. Before Media Day, KAJ wrote in an essay for Rolling Stone that players who don’t get the vaccine should be removed from their teams, period. Then on CNN Monday night, he spoke specifically about Irving’s stance.

Abdul-Jabbar told CNN’s Don Lemon he “can’t accept” Irving’s statement.

“He’s hiding behind procedure here. Either you understand what’s going on and you’re going to do the right thing, or you don’t understand what’s going on and you’re going to continue to create all this confusion with your stance.”

Abdul-Jabbar questioned the character of Irving and others like Bradley Beal and Andrew Wiggins,

“I don’t think that they are behaving like good teammates or good citizens. This is a war that we’re involved in. And masks and vaccines — they are the weapons that we use to fight this war...

“The more ignorance that is spread around, the easier it is to confuse people about what’s happening.”

“We have to educate ourselves so that we understand what is being offered. These vaccines are safe and they are effective. And we have to fight this virus as a group. We can’t have certain people feeling, ‘Well, I don’t have to do that.’ That’s insanity,”

The Hall of Famer is particular aggrieved by the effect the superstars’ vaccine stance is having on the black population, which is statistically the most hesitant to get the shots. In the city where Irving plays, the New York Times reported last month that “only 28 percent of Black New Yorkers ages 18 to 44 years are fully vaccinated.” (Similarly, it should be noted that Irving’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which he has helped with donations of money, food and protective personal equipment, is dealing with its own vaccine hesitancy issues.)

Goodwill makes plain that the objections from Irving, Beal and Wiggins are the exception rather than the rule in the NBA where 90 percent of the players are vaccinated — much higher than the general population — and in the WNBA where the number is 99 percent. But that is no rationale for excusing the “vociferous” objectors.

[W]ith it being a star’s league, the weight is heavily tilted that way to present a view that isn’t exactly true but one the NBA and NBPA must take seriously. The biggest voices are the ones who feel they have the currency — literally and figuratively — to speak up.

It can’t be a coincidence Irving is making $34 million, Beal $34 million and Wiggins $31 million this season.

“Please respect my privacy,” Irving said over Zoom, as if contracting the virus would be a private matter instead of one that could conceivably kill another human being.

Similarly, Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times pointed to Irving’s exalted position in this country that demands a certain response, not to mention moral leadership in a crisis.

Yet this is a very public issue in a very public league that has allowed players like Irving to become very publicly lauded and compensated. And vaccine refusal, at least from a basketball sense, is relevant because of the potential effects it could have on a team.

None of this even addresses the morality in protecting your earthly neighbors from an ever-evolving virus.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated writes about the situation from the perspective of the Nets as a team and finds Irving’s position on privacy baseless.

Look—medical decisions are personal. And often should be private. But this is different. Unless the law changes, an unvaccinated player for a New York team, like Irving, will not be eligible to play indoors. That means Irving cannot play in Brooklyn’s 41 home games. He would presumably also be ineligible for the two games the Nets play at Madison Square Garden. An All-Star point guard could miss more than half the season.

These aren’t medical questions.

They are basketball questions.

And Irving owes everyone answers.

Although he didn’t specify he was discussing the Nets — or any specific team — Baxter Holmes of ESPN wrote that there is growing dissent — and exasperation — among the staffs of teams where players are unvaccinated.

Though roughly 90% of NBA players are vaccinated as training camp approaches Tuesday, tension exists between those around the league mandated to be vaccinated and the nearly 40 unvaccinated players, league sources told ESPN.

In some instances, vaccinated staffers said they’re concerned about the health risks of being exposed to unvaccinated players. In others, staffers said they’re upset that players aren’t facing the same vaccine requirements as most team staff and referees. In still others, there’s animosity toward the league itself for not imposing such a mandate.

Locally, Barbara Barker of Newsday talked about distraction and the effect it’s likely to have on the Nets ... no matter what Irving says about not wanting to be a distraction.

The one thing that does seem evident is, vaccinated or not, Irving is a distraction.

The Nets are not the Knicks. They are not a rebuilding team that is hoping to go to the second round of the playoffs this season. The Nets are looking to win it all, to avenge their painful loss to the Bucks, the team that beat them in the second round and then went on to win an NBA title that very well could have gone to the Nets.

In the end, there seems no easy way out for Irving. According to one report, by Matt Sullivan in Rolling Stone, Irving has not only refused to take his shot, but has been “liking” the craziest of anti-vaccine rhetoric.

Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.”

One thing not mentioned by the national commentators is something much closer to home that should get some attention, should engage Irving. Asia Durr, who plays for the Liberty and knows Irving, has been devastated by COVID. She is a so-called COVID “long-hauler.” Her career is at best in jeopardy after she contracted COVID before vaccines were available last year. In her pinned tweet on Twitter from January when he told her story to Real Sports, she offers this advice to everyone, but particularly the young, the athletes...

Serious, indeed.