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KYRIE BACK! New York to change private sector mandate, permitting unvaxxed pros to play

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Brooklyn Nets v Orlando Magic Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

After a series of conflicting reports on whether the city would pull its private sector mandate as recently as Wednesday afternoon, Shams Charania reports that the mandate that’s prevented Kyrie Irving from playing in New York will be changed to permit Irving — and unvaccinated Mets and Yankees — to play at home.

Indeed, Mayor Adams is scheduled to make an “economic and health-related announcement” Thursday morning at Citi Field.

In doing so, the Mayor will NOT be pulling the private sector mandate, but instead exempt athletes and entertainers. Under the mandate that into effect on December 27, city businesses with more than 100 employees require that all their employees get vaccinated against COVID-19.

This is the second “peel back” of mandates that affected Irving’s status. Earlier this month, the city pulled the “Key2NYC” mandate that covered indoor venues.

The new change will permit Irving to play in all of the Nets final 10 games starting Sunday when the Nets return to Brooklyn to play the Hornets. Included in that number is an away game vs. the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on April 6 that under the mandate he couldn’t play. Prior to the change, Irving would only have been eligible to play in two of the last 10, Wednesday in Memphis and April 2 in Atlanta.

Irving, of course, hasn’t played at home since June 7 because of his refusal to get vaccinated.

The Nets are currently in the eighth seed and will be forced to be part of the NBA’s play-in tournament. The decision is critical to the Nets prospects in the play-in. If the Nets finish in eighth place, they will be forced to play vs. the Raptors in Toronto on April 12, Irving would not be able to play in the game. Canada currently bars all unvaccinated persons from entering the country. If they move into seventh, the play-in game will take place in Brooklyn. The Nets of course would like to finish with the sixth seed which would give them six days off between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs.

As recently as Tuesday, the mayor seemed to suggest that he would not permit unvaccinated players on the Nets as well as the city’s two MLB teams to play anytime soon.

“They have to wait,” Adams said of the sports teams while announcing an end to mask mandates for children 2-to-5. But with Major League Baseball closing in on its Opening Day on April 7 and multiple Mets and Yankees reportedly unvaccinated, there had been increasing speculation that the city would relent.

On Tuesday, Adams didn’t provide any benchmarks the city will have to see before removing the mandate.

Earlier Wednesday, Nick Friedell of ESPN suggested on The Recount Alt that after talking to city officials the Nets hopes for an Irving return were “gone.”

“So the Nets are in a holding pattern, they’re in a waiting game, but they thought this would already be done. But Mayor Adams made it clear that that’s not going to happen at least for the next couple of weeks...

“Now, that hope that they had that Kyrie would be available for games at Barclays Center? That’s gone.”

However, Adrian Wojnarowski speaking on ESPN’s NBA Today, said the Nets had optimism that at some point the mandate would be changed.

“I think there’s optimism that it is coming, that there’s a pathway for Kyrie Irving to play again with the Nets at home this season. but you heard Eric Adams, New York City’s mayor, yesterday say that the sports teams in New York, the Nets, Mets Yankees are going to have to wait their turn, but there’s optimism out there that they may not have to wait too much longer.”

After Wednesday night’s loss, Irving, Durant and Steve Nash basically declined comment on the reported change.

Irving said post-game he wouldn’t deal in “hypotheticals” and declined to answer questions about the mandate until the official announcement.

Durant similarly wouldn’t comment, but noted “We are hoping to get some good news.”

“We all know we want Kyrie, we need Kyrie,” Nash said but declined to say anything further.

The decision will end seven months of back-and-forth speculation on Irving’s status. In September, Irving told the Nets he would not get vaccinated. With the city’s indoor venue mandate in effect, that meant that he wouldn’t be able to play at home. Initially, the Nets decided against having Irving play or participate in practices. Then in mid-December, as COVID decimated the Nets roster and reportedly with the encouragement of Kevin Durant, the Nets decided to make a change and permit to play on the road.

Then, in February, James Harden, in part motivated by Irving’s uncertain status, asked for a trade and was sent to Philly in return for Ben Simmons and Paul Millsap, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry, two first round picks and two trade exceptions.

In recent weeks, there was even more controversy. On March 13, Durant suggested that Mayor Adams was seeking attention in his refusal to change the private sector mandate, a comment he had to walk back the next day. Meanwhile, the Nets as an organization remained silent but John Abbamondi, the CEO of BSE Global, Joe Tsai’s holding company, told the media that the team was in “regular contact” with city officials.

Post-game Wednesday, Irving, Durant and Steve Nash declined comment on the change in the mandate, wanting to wait until it’s official.

Of course, players both on and off the Nets wanted Irving back...

Earlier Wednesday, Andre Drummond said this of his hopes for an Irving return.

“I’m not into politics man. I play basketball and I take care of my kids,” said Drummond. “Whatever the mayor decides to do is what he does. Hopefully he makes a decision to do something to help (Kyrie) out someway somehow.”

Not everyone thought the decision by Mayor Adams was the right one. Dr. Jay Varna, an advisor to Adams’ predecessor, Bill deBlasio, tweeted that lobbying had outweighed science and called the change to the mandate as the “Kyrie Carve-Out.:

The city remains concerned about the omicron BA.2 variant which is 30 percent more transmissible than the original omicron. It currently accounts for more than 30 percent of the city’s new infections but officials do not believe it will lead to another surge. However, New York’s efforts to get the city’s population boosted have slowed. While 86.4 percent of the city’s population has had at least one shot, offering some protection, only 36 percent are fully vaccinated and boosted.