Recently, the biggest story in the NBA has not been the preseason games, but Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get the vaccine. Now, apparently NBA players are not required to get the vaccine, but the issue is that Kyrie Irving plays in New York City, where the city government has made it mandatory for people to have vaccines if they want to attend large sporting events. That mandate includes players.
This is from Yahoo:
Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the Brooklyn Nets until he is eligible to become a full participant under New York City Covid-19 vaccine rules, his team has confirmed.
Irving is unable to play home matches due to his vaccination status and Nets general manager Sean Marks said he won’t play at all until the situation changes.
The Nets said: “Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.
Financially, Kyrie Irving will forfeit about $380k for every Nets home game he misses, however he will still be paid for away games he misses because the Nets organization is preventing him from playing. He himself is fully eligible to play in road games, the Nets just won’t let him because they don’t want to be in that sort of situation where he can be with the team on the road but not at home. It seems unfair to Kyrie, but I can also see where the Nets front office is coming from.
Even more, the Nets say they are not going to offer Kyrie a contract extension now. This is the final year he’s under contract. 2022 is a player option for him, however:
The interesting thing will be to see what happens after this season. If he does in fact continue refusing to get the vaccine and miss this entire season (something I don’t envision happening, but who knows), and then he picks up his player option for 2023, what will the Nets do about that? Will they try to get out of it somehow? It’s going to be an extremely messy situation.
What if the vaccine mandate is still in place in 2023? We have no idea how long this is going to last.
Now obviously Kyrie would only lose $200 million if he refuses to play for any other team. He could be traded to another team tomorrow and not miss out on a dime going forward. Or, he could decline his player option and sign with another team after this season. But apparently the rumor is that if he’s traded, he’ll just retire. He has no interest in playing anywhere else.
This is why I say Kyrie is currently in the process of pulling an Antonio Brown. Regardless of whether you agree with his stance on vaccines or not, he’s rebelling against the system like Antonio Brown did. AB went through that whole drama with the Steelers, then the Raiders, as well as the NFL itself, back in 2019, and it did not work out for him. He was out of football for a year-and-a-half.
No player is bigger than the league itself. Not AB, not Kyrie, not even Tom Brady or LeBron.
The difference between Kyrie and AB, though, is that Kyrie is fighting against a government mandate, while AB was merely fighting against the NFL. Kyrie will not win this battle. There is no way the government of New York City will give him an exemption from the vaccine mandate. The public backlash would be massive. Vaccine mandates are already highly controversial as it is, and if the city allowed one guy an exemption just because he’s a famous athlete, that would not go over well.
Again, as I said above, I have a feeling Kyrie will eventually get vaccinated and rejoin his team. He pulled something similar to this last season, where he was sitting out games for personal and/or political reasons. He’s always on some sort of crusade about something.
But when it came time for the playoffs, he was 100% about basketball.
I’m not saying this is just some publicity stunt by him, nor am I saying what New York City is doing to him is fair or justified. I’m just saying that I have a feeling he will realize he’s out of options, reluctantly get the vaccine shot, and get back with his teammates.
For Kyrie’s part, he has said he’s not going to retire over this:
“And no I’m not retiring, and no I’m not leaving this game like this,” Irving said. “There’s still so much more work to do and there’s still so many other youngins to inspire. Because I know they want to be better than me. And I can’t wait to play against all y’all on this stage.”
But if he doesn’t get the vaccine, and if he refuses to be traded anywhere else, then he is effectively retiring from basketball for all intents and purposes, even if he doesn’t explicitly say he’s retiring.
He also made a comment about how he was promised he wouldn’t have to get the vaccine to play basketball:
“And I don’t want to sit here and play on people’s emotions, either,” Irving said. “Just use logic. You know, what would you do? You know, if you felt uncomfortable going into the season, when you were promised that you would have exemptions or that you didn’t have to be forced to get the vaccine. You know, this wasn’t an issue before the season started. This wasn’t something that I foresaw coming in where I prepared for it and I had a chance to strategize on what was going to be best for me and my family. I came into the season thinking that I was just gonna be able to play ball, you know, be able to use my talent to continue to inspire, influence people in the right way.”
Now I don’t doubt that he was promised he wouldn’t have to get the vaccine. He probably was. After all, the NBAPA rejected the league’s demands for a vaccine mandate. NBA players don’t have to get vaccinated. The Nets organization probably told him he wouldn’t have to get it, and they’d figure out a work-around.
But the problem for him is that the city government in NYC has a vaccine mandate. The Nets organization can’t do anything about that. Not even the NBA can. It’s a city rule (I don’t think it’s a law, at least not yet).
I’ll also include a clip from is IG live stream just to give you his own words and his side of the story:
He talks about how people are losing their jobs due to vaccine mandates and how he wants to be a “voice for the voiceless.” It seems like it’s about making a bigger point, rather than just he himself not wanting to get vaccinated.
Ultimately, though, I really do think Kyrie will cave on this, for lack of a better term.
Unless he’s willing to be traded to another team outside of NYC, he’s not going to be able to play basketball without getting the vaccine.
Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he feels so strongly about this that he’s willing to sit out the whole season and potentially longer in order to make his point.
But I don’t think that’ll happen.
If it does happen, though, it changes the whole NBA landscape. The Nets are no longer the prohibitive favorites to win the Championship without Kyrie. In that case the Lakers would be the clear favorites.
I really don’t know what’s going to happen here. We’re in uncharted waters with this situation. The closest parallel I can think of is Colin Kaepernick, but Kaepernick was never legally prohibited from playing football.