The questions are not going away. As the Nets struggle and Kyrie Irving’s status remains unvaccinated and part-time, beat writers and others are going to ask, repeatedly, about whether there’s any change in his status, whether his teammates are talking to him and whether the burden of having a part-time player, no matter how good, is going help or hurt continuity.
On Friday night, Nick Friedell of ESPN asked James Harden and Kevin Durant about whether they’ve had conversations with Irving about his vaccine status while he and other reporters asked Steve Nash about adjusting to Irving’s special status, being allowed to play in (most) road games but not even allowed inside Barclays Center.
Friedell, who also was the first beat to ask Irving himself about vaccination on Wednesday, didn’t get much from either member of the “Big Three” after the Nets fifth straight loss at Barclays Center.
Harden, asked about how Irving’s vaccination status is affecting the Nets, repeatedly responded, “He knows that,” but also said he has not discussed the vaccine with his fellow superstar guard. He denied things were “strange” because of the New York City regulations that keep Irving away from Brooklyn.
“It wasn’t strange, nah,” Harden said. “It felt good honestly to have him back. It felt good. It felt like an extra life that we had. But we got to live with what we’re dealt with and that’s home games we got to figure ways [to win]. And even road games — just ‘cause Ky’s on the road with us don’t mean he’s going to be easy for us as well. So we got to mesh and we got to find ways to win games ... every time we step on the floor teams are going at us, they feel like they got something to prove and we got to know that. And we got to bring that same mentality towards them.”
Durant gave a more detailed answer on Irving but he, too, said he had not spoken to Irving about his vaccination status. Nor will he.
“I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play — play every game,” Durant said when Friedell asked about Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated. “But I’m not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that’s not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I’m not about to do that.”
KD did say that he and Irving have had “conversations.”
“We’ve had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that’s on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he’s going to make. It’s on us to be professionals no matter what, and do our jobs. All of us — from the owner down to the equipment manager — so whenever he ready, he’ll be ready.”
Irving, of course, scored 22 points in Wednesday’s road win, helping the Nets turn around the game late. He won’t be able to play Sunday at home vs. the Spurs but will be eligible to play Monday’s make-up game vs. the Blazers in Portland, then Wednesday’s game vs. the Bulls in Chicago. Of the Nets remaining 45 games, Irving will be eligible for play in 21, not being permitted to play at Madison Square Garden or in Canada.
When Friedell asked Durant whether Irving had given him indication as to why he has chosen not to get the vaccine, Durant said he hasn’t discussed it.
“I haven’t even asked for an explanation,” Durant said. “It ain’t my place I don’t think. So I’m ready for whatever, that’s been my whole mentality. Whatever happens in this situation, I got to still be me, still go out there and represent the way I represent. I’m supporting whatever my team needs me to do, wants to do.
Irving has offered several explanations, either directly or through an intermediary. He has said he and has family are protected by God and that he opposes the very mandates that have forced him off the court. There have also been reports, though indirect, that Irving is concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccines, presumably the messengerRNA technology that Pfizer and Moderna use.
KD also expressed exasperation in general about COVID. He himself has tested positive multiple times, both before and after receiving the vaccine.
“It’s a weird situation, who knows? I don’t understand most of this s---. COVID, all of this stuff has been crazy the last few years. So me, I just try to stay centered and focus on me. When Kyrie’s ready to make decisions for himself he will, and I trust that.”
Nash, who said earlier in the week that he, too, hadn’t spoken with Irving about his status, was asked about how the arrangement is affecting the team, whether they’re going to be getting up more for road games with the “Big Three” than home games with the “Big Two.”
“I hope it’s not that way,” Nash said. “I don’t know that our guys really even take a pause to think about if we’re home or road, I think it might get their juices going to get in the building on the road like, ‘Oh yeah, we got Kyrie tonight.’ But I don’t think they’re sitting at home going ‘No fun at home without Kyrie,’ ‘Fun on the road with Kyrie.’”
Durant echoed the comment.
“I don’t think so because we’ve been playing the majority of our games without him,” Durant said. “We’re professionals. We’re veterans. We’re supposed to know how to adapt to some s---. We’ve been playing without him all season so one game shouldn’t throw us off like that.”
It’s not just the Nets struggles at home that will lead to questions. Bradley Beal, who had been adamant about not getting the shot, relented last week when Washington invoked new regulations that would have put him in the same situation as Irving. Andrew Wiggins, faced with the same choice in San Francisco, ultimately got the shot as well. Of course the number of NBA players who’ve gotten vaccinated is now 98 percent with 70 percent boosted, both significantly higher than the general public.
Giannis Antetokounmpo also was asked Irving’s status post-game, specifically how he would deal with a player on his team who didn’t want to get the jab.
“When it comes to basketball, I feel like I can talk to them,” Antetokounmpo said. “When it comes to a personal decision like that, it’s ... I’ve got to let them make their decision. They’re grown men. You know, and every situation is different. I cannot pressure somebody to do something that he doesn’t feel comfortable doing. I can tell you why I did it. Why I felt comfortable doing it. To protect my family, to protect my mom and stuff, stay safe, and you just hope he understands that. But if he doesn’t want to do it, I can’t keep pressuring him.
“I’ve got to focus on myself and come every day and do my job, because that’s what I get paid to do. I don’t know what relationship they have, what kind of relationship they have. They probably have talked to him but they cannot keep on pressuring him to do something he doesn’t feel comfortable because it takes so much energy and takes energy away from basketball. That’s why we’re here.”
So expect that Irving, his teammates and coaches as well as other other stars will continue to get questions. It’s too be expected. The virus, particularly the omicron variant, has laid the NBA low sending hundreds, including Irving, into health and safety protocols. There is no bigger story in the NBA.
- Kevin Durant talks Nets’ recent struggles (Video) - YES Network
- James Harden on loss to Bucks (Video) - YES Network
- Kevin Durant after loss to Milwaukee Bucks: Not going to force Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- Kevin Durant not forcing Kyrie Irving to get vaccine - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Charles Barkley rips Nets, Kyrie Irving over his part-time status - Mark W. Sanchez - New York Post
- Kevin Durant, James Harden not pressuring Kyrie Irving to get vaccine - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Kevin Durant is not forcing Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated: ‘So he can play basketball? I’m not about to do that’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets’ problems persist in blowout loss to Bucks, 4th defeat in last 5 games - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic