Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status continues to be a source of tension.
Just this week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported that his decision to remain unvaccinated was an early-season source of angst for the Nets. Their ESPN teammate Zach Lowe surmised that if Irving had chosen to receive one dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine, Brooklyn’s “Big Three” might still be intact — meaning that James Harden might never asked out of Brooklyn.
Nick Friedell, also of ESPN, asked Irving after Saturday’s game against Miami if he felt any guilt for how things had gone this season... a superteam imploding not even one calendar year into its original construction, one whose goals of reaching the Finals may have combusted at the trade deadline.
At first, Irving responded with, “Don’t bring your personal emotions in! Come on now. Come on now. Come on now. Puppeteers!”
He then answered the question in full, stating...
“We’re back here. Play your media games with somebody else, bro, please understand that there’s a lot going on. And I’m here as a human being just like you, bro, please respect my boundaries, man. That’s all I’m asking, bro.
“There’s no guilt that I feel. I’m the only player that has to deal with this in New York City because I played there. If I was anywhere else in another city, then there probably would be the same circumstances. But because I’m there, we have Eric Adams, we have the New York mandate, we have things going on that are real-life circumstances that are not just affecting me, bro.”
“So you ask me these questions. I don’t feel guilt. I’m just living my life as best I can just like everybody else amidst these last few years. I didn’t have a plan in place when all this was going on. I didn’t know. Like I said, the NBA and the NBPA made it very clear that there would be things that we would be able to do to work around this. And that’s off the table. So you tell me if I’m just alone out here, or do I have support from everybody else that still would same thing?”
It’s (still) unclear what Irving means regarding the NBA and NBAPA drawing up workarounds for the vaccine mandate in New York City. And the mandates in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. are nearly identical. Players on the home teams are ineligible if they are not vaccinated.
This is not the first time that Irving has hinted at some NBA-NBPA solution, but he’s yet to explain this vague messaging in greater detail. Plus, there’s no indication that Irving — or the Nets — have in talks with the league to construct an exemption to the city’s vaccine policy.
As things stand now, Irving will only be able to play in one game of the Nets next eight, a February 26 game vs. the Bucks. The Nets play two road games where normally Irving would be eligible to play, but one is at Madison Square Garden in New York, which is covered by the city’s mandate; the other at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Canada prohibits entry by unvaccinated players.
Irving also addressed TNT’s Charles Barkley labeling him “half-a-man, half-a-season” before Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards. This, of course, was in reference to Irving being eligible for only half of Brooklyn’s games (on the road) while disbarred from participating at home due to the city mandate. Here’s a clip of Barkley’s comments.
"Half-man, half a season."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) February 11, 2022
Charles Barkley on Kyrie Irving pic.twitter.com/xMtspPmhve
Other NBA legends, have also criticized his stance.
Here’s Kyrie’s response to the Hall of Famer, one of a number of NBA greats — including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal — who’ve criticized his stance...
“I’m noticing that people like to make jokes about what’s going on, and half-game or half-man or whatever it is. My family has to see some of that stuff. My teammates have to see some of that. And like I said, that outside noise creeps in at times, but it doesn’t impact me because I’m used to this. I don’t play these media games. I don’t do this. This is part of my job. But this is not what I signed up for in order to be going back and forth. Answering questions about my personal emotions, whatever it is.”
To sum up, Irving contended his choice to remain unvaccinated, one of a tiny minority of NBA players — about one percent — was not simple.
“I still wish I could be out there at home. And some people say it’s as simple as, ‘Hey, go get this, go get the shot.’ No, it’s not as simple as that for me in my life but ultimately, still praying for a better outcome.”
Irving again did not explain his stance. In the past, he has said that God protects him and his people, that he’s not opposed to the vaccine as much as he is to vaccine mandates and, according to one report quoting those close to him, he’s concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccine, but again that report did not detail which effects concern him.