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Mayor Eric Adams officially changes vaccine mandate, Kyrie Irving to play home games

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Brooklyn Nets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The announcement Brooklyn Nets fans — as well as New York Mets and Yankee fans — have been waiting for became a reality Thursday morning.

The Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, officially lifted the private sector vaccination mandate for professional athletes and performers in local venues. Adams made the announcement at a press conference held at Citi Field — the home stadium of the Mets.

Kyrie Irving will now be able to play home games at Barclays Center, and so will unvaccinated New York Yankee and Met players in their respective home ballparks. For Irving, the change means he will play Sunday at Barclays Center, his first home game since June 7 of last year. For the unvaccinated Mets and Yankees, it means they will be eligible once baseball opens on April 7.

“Today I sign an Emergency Executive Order 62, expanding the performance exemption to private employer mandates. This is about putting New York City base performers on a level playing field,” said Adams at the press conference held at Citi Field Thursday morning.

The Mayor explained how the so-called “carve-out” for professional athletes and performers based in New York City has been on his mind since he took office on January 1. Adams stated his medical professionals have re-evaluated the situation and said with NYC now in a different place than it has been, he decided to make to make the move. That, he said, was the motive that made this move official. He followed that by adding the days of putting athletes and performers at a competitive disadvantage are over.

“Day 1 when I was mayor, I looked at the rule that stated hometown players had an unfair disadvantage for those who were coming to visit. Immediately, I felt we needed to look at that,” Adams said. “My medical professionals said, ‘Eric, we’re at a different place. We have to wait until we’re at a place where we’re at a low area to re-examine some of the mandates.’ We’re here today.

“Currently, only non-residents are exempt from this executive order. We’re expanding it to residents of New York City. Unimaginable. We were treating our performers differently because they lived and played for home teams. That’s not acceptable. This exemption has been putting our sports teams at a self-imposed competitive disadvantage, but this new order would help boost our economy.”

The Mayor described how New York is currently as a “low risk environment” for COVID-19, with a stable positivity rate under two percent on a 28-day rolling average and 13 hospitalizations a day on a seven-day rolling average, citing the latest public data. He reiterated that he continues to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. While 86 percent of the city’s population has received at least one shot, offering some protection only 36 percent are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Adams did not relent on what he thought Irving should do, even now that he’s been cleared to play in the city.

“Kyrie, you should get vaccinated,” the mayor said. “Nothing has changed. Get vaccinated.”

Shortly after Adams’ press conference concluded, the NBA and the NBPA [National Basketball Players Association] released a joint statement, supporting the Mayor’s decision. In the statement, both parties said the league has achieved a 97 percent vaccination and 75 percent booster rate among players, required by both league staff, team staff, and referees, stressing to continue their strong advocacy for vaccination and boosters.

NBA Communications

Neither the Nets nor Irving had commented as of 11 p.m. ET, but Joe Tsai tweeted this just before noon…

Irving’s first home game will be played on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets. The Nets are slated to play six of their remaining eight regular-season games at Barclays Center as well as one at Madison Square Garden. Under a ruling by the previous city administration, Irving wouldn’t have been able to play there either.

John Abbamondi, CEO of Joe Tsai’s holding company, said earlier in the month that the Nets have been in “regular contact” with the city about the mandate. Indeed, earlier Thursday, Lindsay Adler who covers the Yankees for The Athletic, reported B-Cubed, one of the Nets corporate entities, had paid the former president of the New York City Council to push for the change...

Johnson is close to the mayor and was part of his transition team.

Of course, the Mets and Yankees had also lobbied strongly to get the mandate changed. In fact, as many news organizations have noted, Steve Cohen, the billionaire investor and Mets principal owner, gave Adams $1.5 million in campaign contributions last year. The Mets, as MLB reporter Jon Heyman noted Thursday, had as many as 10 players who were unvaccinated at the end of last season. Randy Levine of the Yankees and Sandy Alderson of Mets have refused to give a specific numbers on how many unvaccinated players are on their respective teams. Bernadette Hogan, City Hall editor for the Post quoted Levine as saying a “small number” of Yankees hadn’t gotten the shot and Alderson claiming a “minority” of players were unvaxxed.

The announcement ends both months of speculation about the mandate and 48 hours of conflicting reports out of City Hall. On Tuesday, the mayor suggested that the Nets, Mets and Yankees and their fans would “have to wait” till the science supported any change. On Wednesday morning, he said he would check with his attorney to determine if Irving could legally practice with his teammates at HSS Training Center. Then, in a rapid fire turn of events, the mayor’s office first released a statement that Irving could continue to practice at HSS and Shams Charania reported the change in the mandate.

Meanwhile, ticket prices on the open market for Irving’s home debut have soared. TickPick, a secondary ticket marketplace, reported Thursday that the cheapest ticket sold for this game at the start of the season was $29 but has jumped dramatically with an average price of $107 and the most expensive ticket sold on the secondary market so far went for $413.