Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks announced today that Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the Nets “until he is eligible to be a full participant.” Irving’s refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccine makes him ineligible to play in public, per New York City policy, though he was technically allowed to practice with the team after the city deemed the Nets’ practice facility a private workplace. Brooklyn’s first game is in one week, and while they theoretically could have used Irving in road games played in cities without vaccine regulations and otherwise strained for ways to keep him in the fold, Marks said that he believed a hard line was better for on-court cohesion. Kevin Durant and James Harden helped make the decision, so he’s probably right.
Irving has emphasized his autonomy in not getting vaccinated, and the team’s statement emphasized the consequences of exercising that autonomy:
“Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant. 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. It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice. Our championship goals for the season have not changed, and to achieve these goals each member of our organization must pull in the same direction. We are excited for the start of the season and look forward to a successful campaign that will make the borough of Brooklyn proud.”Brooklyn Nets
Durant supposedly mounted an effort to convince Irving to get over himself—an anti-disinformation campaign, if you will—and though Irving reportedly came close to getting the jab, he’s clearly dug in his heels since. Nets coach Steve Nash said earlier this week that the team had accepted Irving wouldn’t play in home games, and Irving didn’t make the trip to Philadelphia for a Monday preseason game (though Ben Simmons somehow did). “We’re just trying to take our time to figure out what everything means,” Nash said.
This is obviously extremely frustrating for everyone involved, as the Nets must now gear up for the first 82-game season in three years and begin what looked like a very viable championship chase hamstrung by the absence of the best ballhandler in the NBA, who will be sitting on the bench because he’s making a stand over a very particular exercising of his “personal freedom.” Keeping Irving out puts meaningful pressure on him to take the very simple step of getting vaccinated and rejoining a championship contender. Even without Irving, the Nets are one of the best teams in the NBA; with him on the court, they’re the clear title favorites.
Almost every NBA player is vaccinated, a group which now includes Irving’s one-time anti-vaxx ally Andrew Wiggins. The Warriors forward was pretty clear that he A) did not want to get vaccinated, but B) chose to do so because it was the only way he could keep playing professional basketball and earning a check for doing so. Irving will lose money for every game he misses and the Nets’ championship quest will become more fraught the longer he’s out, more because of chemistry than wins and losses. Marks said the team hopes to welcome Irving back “with open arms under a different set of circumstances.” The calculus of Irving’s holdout will probably change once the Nets start playing games, but until then, Irving can at least rely on the support of some of the worst and most cynical people in the country.