Kyrie Irving, vaccine mandates and speaking for ‘the voiceless’

Photo courtesy of Erik Drost, Wiki.

When the Nets signed Kyrie Irving on July 1, 2019, General Manager Sean Marks knew exactly what he was getting. Sure, Irving came to Brooklyn with six All Star appearances, multiple All-NBA appearances, a global brand that could lure in international fans, and perhaps the greatest shot in the history of the National Basketball Association. However, none of that was ever the most attractive aspect Irving presented as a free agent. What attracted Marks and the Nets to Irving was his ability to draw other NBA stars to Brooklyn and build the superteam seen today. 

Of course, nobody could predict a global pandemic, and the plan was certainly never to put the Nets and Irving in the situation they find themselves in today, but somehow the Nets are unfazed by the whole situation. But what is this “situation,” and why do both sides seem so content with where they stand? For that, some background is needed. 

To begin, Kyrie Irving is unvaccinated, and he is very committed to staying that way for the foreseeable future. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio implemented a mandate that requires people to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to enter both Barclays Center, the home of the Nets, and Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Knicks. Based on these two facts alone, it is easy to see why Irving cannot play, but there is much more to unpack.

To Irving, this fight is about much more than just getting a shot. To be clear, Irving is not “anti-vax.” His argument is for people without a voice. Based on comments made on an Instagram Live he held last week, Irving is more concerned for the people being forced to do something they are uncomfortable with, specifically being forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to keep their jobs. 

“Everybody is entitled to do what they feel is what’s best for themselves,” Irving said on the live stream. He followed that up by saying that he is “standing with all those that believe what is right.”

There were reports circling around the NBA that Irving would consider retirement, but he cleared up those comments, saying on the Live, “I am not going and leaving this game like this, there is still so much more work to do.” 

Irving knows what is at stake here. He knows he will lose a large portion of his salary by not receiving at least one shot, but the threat of losing out on millions does not phase him. 

As for the Nets, this is not the first time Irving has caused a predicament inside the organization. Irving took an unexcused, nearly month-long absence in January of 2021. However, just as Kyrie is not fazed by this situation, neither is Sean Marks. 

As the Nets brought in Kyrie Irving, they also signed his best friend and perennial superstar Kevin Durant. With those two came the ability for the Nets to trade for another superstar and former MVP, James Harden, in the same period of Irving’s absence. Obviously the Nets would like Irving on the court, but with two other future Hall of Famers at the helm, the Nets do not need Irving in order to achieve their championship aspirations. 

So what is next for each side? For Irving, it’s a waiting game. NYC Mayoral candidate and presumptive winner Eric Adams implied that there could be a change coming to NYC’s vaccine mandate, saying he is “extremely optimistic” Irving will take the court for the Nets in the near future, but neither side is putting all their eggs in that basket. 

For the time being, Kyrie is content standing for what he believes in. With Harden and Durant holding the keys to the franchise, the Nets are just as content letting him do that.

 

wjackso2@ramapo.edu