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Could Nets play Kyrie Irving in defiance of New York City regulations? In a word, no

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a fan narrative for a few weeks: The New York City regulations that have kept Kyrie Irving off the court in Brooklyn carry only minor fines. The magic loophole! On Wednesday, Stefan Bondy, in a column for the Daily News, took it step further and suggested that this could be a way out for the Nets ... if they really wanted to.

Let me present the penalties for noncompliance with The Key to NYC, as outlined in Bill de Blasio’s executive order:

First offense: Warning.

Second offense: $1,000 fine.

Third offense: $2,000 fine.

Fourth offense: $5,000 fine.

Fifth offense to infinity offenses: $5,000 fine.

That of course is less than a drop in the bucket for Joe Tsai who despite Alibaba’s stock drop, is still worth billions and billions of dollars. Bondy admits that it’s all theoretical and indeed it is less than that. The Nets would be giving the city and its new mayor, Eric Adams, a slap in the face during a health crisis that has defined Adams first days in office. It would be a public relations disaster for the Nets ... and the NBA, both of whom have their headquarters in the city ... and are dependent in a myriad of ways on the city’s good will (and in previous administrations, its largesse.)

Moreover, unmentioned in either the fan narrative or Bondy’s column, is that long ago the NBA recognized the supremacy of local laws, specifically New York’s. Here’s the league statement from October.

The city did ultimately exempt HSS Training Center from the executive order, permitting Irving to practice, but as the statement shows, the league understands that local law rules. So, does anyone really believe that the NBA would permit the Nets to violate the law ... in the city it calls home? Really?

It is in fact the latest convoluted workaround that the team or its fans have suggested. The Nets reportedly tried to get the city to recognize that Irving, as a resident of New Jersey, is not covered by the city regs. There was even a vague rumor, denied by the Nets, that they had explored either practicing or playing in Newark to avoid the city regs.

But as Bondy — and fellow columnist Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation — write, the simplest solution remains available: Irving should get vaccinated. (Under the city’s revised regs, he’ll need to be fully vaccinated, rather than have gotten one shot.)

The optics of disobeying a vaccine mandate simply because of vast wealth and basketball is horrifying. It’s not something the Nets want to explore. Nor should they...

Irving should get vaccinated. He should’ve been vaccinated months ago, if not sooner, because the science is clear on its safety. If nothing else, Irving can send a positive message of personal responsibility to the community’s health. He’s the highest-profile holdout in the NBA and, like it or not, a symbol of heroism to the anti-vaxxers. And since Irving hasn’t coherently explained his stance, the message is left up to interpretation. To me, it’s just defiance for the sake of defiance. Irving’s a noted contrarian telling the world, “Nobody can tell me what to do.”

O’Donnell hits the same points as Bondy...

The Covid vaccines are a massive achievement for humanity. They are safe and effective. Every other member of the Nets and Knicks is vaccinated. Irving should stop being stubborn and just get the jab. It’s not just about keeping himself safe — it’s about keeping everyone in New York City safe, too, and setting a good example for the people who look up to him.

Irving has never given a sensible reason for refusing to get the vaccine. His refusal to do it has made him a political pawn for a certain section of the population, and that’s not something Kyrie wants to be associated with. Irving might fancy himself as a freethinker, but in this instance he’s being ignorant.

In fact, as we’ve noted, Irving and people close to him have provided three different explanations for his refusal (it’s long since past hesitancy) to get the shots. First he tweeted that he and his “people” are “protected by God,” then in an Instagram live, he suggested that he was not so much opposed to the vaccine. Instead he said he didn’t like mandates and wanted to be the “voice of the voiceless.” Most recently those in his “circle” suggested to Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson that he was concerned about the possible long-term effects ... without citing specifics.

With former anti-vaxxers like Andrew Wiggins and Bradley Beal agreeing to be vaccinated in order to comply with local mandates in San Francisco and Washington, Irving’s status will continue to be a irritant, the subject of questions ... and columns like Bondy’s and O’Donnell’s. The percentage of players who’ve gotten vaxxed now approaches 99 percent. Irving is an outlier and one who obviously feels comfortable in his position. And why not, he has gotten a billionaire to back down and survived a bout with the virus.