NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving won’t play or practice with the Nets, regardless of venue or circumstance, until he gets a COVID-19 vaccine shot, the team said Tuesday morning.
Irving is eligible to play road games outside of New York and could practice in Brooklyn, but the Nets decided to not go through with making him a part-time player, general manager Sean Marks said.
“We have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant,” Marks said in a statement. “Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose.”
New York City’s mandate for indoor dining, fitness and entertainment means that unvaccinated players on the Knicks and Nets cannot play at Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden. Irving is apparently the only unvaccinated player on either team.
“Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of our team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability,” Marks said.
Marks said Tuesday that Irving can rejoin the team as soon as he gets vaccinated. “The hope is that we have Kyrie back,” he said. “We’ll welcome him back with open arms under a different set of circumstances. So we need to wait and see how that transpires.”
“I’m sure this is not a decision that they like,” Marks said of Irving’s camp. “Kyrie loves basketball, wants to be out there, wants to be participating with his teammates. But again, this is a choice that Kyrie had and he was well aware of that. Again, we’ve had multiple conversations about this. I think the conversations were good; they were very clear and clearly outlined, and this is where we stand right now today.”
Previously, Nets players had said that they believed Irving would get vaccinated. “I’m envisioning Kyrie being a part of our team,” Kevin Durant said last week. “Maybe I’m just naive, maybe, but that’s just how I feel.”
But it became increasingly clear that Irving was in no rush to get the jab. “I think right now we assume he’s not going to be available for home games,” Nets coach Steve Nash said over the weekend. “Anything can change. Who’s to say, the city’s ordinance could change? Anything could change.”
Irving did catch a break with a New York City ruling that the Nets’ practice facility in Industry City is a private office not subject to the city’s vaccine mandate, returning to Nets practice on Saturday. “At least he can practice,” Durant said at the time. “But we want him here for the whole thing. We want him here for games, home games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of that. Hopefully we figure this thing out.”
On Monday night, Irving didn’t travel with the team to a road preseason game in Philadelphia. After the game, ESPN reported that Marks, Durant, owner Joe Tsai and James Harden would huddle and determine if they would permit him to play part of the season while unvaccinated.
Irving stands to lose millions of dollars if he refuses the shot. (Proof of one dose is required by New York’s mandate.) The NBA said unvaccinated players would lose 1.09% of their salaries for every game they miss because of local rules; for Irving, missing 43 games in New York would amount to about $16 million. Despite potentially missing the entire season, Marks said Tuesday that Nets would pay Irving for road games. The NBA players’ union has said it would fight for any pay lost because of local vaccine mandates.
Irving has said very little about his apparent choice to refuse the shot. “I am protected by God and so are my people. We stand together,” he tweeted on Saturday. “Again, I would like to keep all that private. Please just respect my privacy,” he said at Nets media day on Sept. 27. “But as of right now, just please respect my privacy regarding anything about home games, what’s happening, vaccination, please.”
The point guard is coming off arguably the best season of his career, averaging 26.9 points on a crisp 50.6% shooting. “Without a doubt, losing a player of Kyrie’s caliber hurts from a talent perspective, no question,” Marks said. “I’m not going to deny that. At the end of the day, our focus, our coach’s focus, the organization’s focus needs to be on the players that are going to be involved here and going to be participating fully.”
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