Because the iconoclastic Irving plays in New York City, he is ineligible to participate in games in the Barclays Center due to city laws. Once that became public, something of a staring contest with the Nets’ brass ensued over whether Irving would be allowed to play with the team and participate in activities in other locations.
With the Nets in the same division as the New York Knicks, Irving would have been able to play in fewer than 40 games this season. Irving traveled to San Diego with the team for training camp, and is technically eligible to practice since the city ruled recently that the Nets’ practice space is a “private workspace” (the Barclays Center is not).
In an interview about the Kyrie decision, Marks said that Irving hadn’t received the COVID shot. “Well, if he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think that’s probably pretty clear,” he remarked.
As Charania noted, Irving could potentially lose significant money from this decision–over $16 million in salary for 2021-22 and the opportunity to sign a contract extension worth $186 million. Irving has earned more than $150 million in his career thus far.
Presumably, the Nets’ decision to not allow Irving to be a part-time player was approved (or, at least, not opposed) by fellow team stars Kevin Durant and James Harden (both of whom are vaccinated), who were reportedly part of that conversation with Marks and team owner Joe Tsai.
In an October 13 interview, Harden shared his thoughts on Irving’s choice. “Kyrie believes in his beliefs [and] he stands firmly. We respect it, we all love Ky. But we have a job to do, and individually myself, I’m still wanting to set myself up for a championship. The entire organization is on the same path,” he explained.
Earlier in the month, Durant stressed that he didn’t want to influence what Kyrie chose to do, though he did hope that he would be part of the team. “This is his decision, that’s his choice, we all respect it, this is way bigger than hoops. I don’t even feel comfortable talking to him about stuff like this. I am just here to support and come in here and do my job as one of the leaders on the team,” he said.
Irving–and his aunt–figure heavily into a September 25 Rolling Stone story about NBA players who are skeptical of the vaccine, which reported that Irving had been liking Instagram posts by prominent anti-vax conspiracy theorists. Irving also caught flack for a tweet using the phrase “mask off” that many saw as being against mask regulations, though Irving later said it was unrelated to the pandemic.
As his star has risen since joining the league in 2011, Irving has found himself embroiled in several different controversies. In 2018, he apologized for stating that the Earth is flat, a comment he made that went viral in 2017. At Forbes’ Under 30 Summit, he spoke about going through a phase of interest in conspiracy theories.
“At the time, I was huge into conspiracies. Everybody’s been there. Like, ‘Yo what’s going on with our world?’ You click on a YouTube link and you see how deep the rabbit hole goes,” he said. “You realize the effect and the power of voice. Even if you believe in that, don’t come out and say that stuff, that’s for intimate conversations.”
Irving has also made a positive impact through charitable donations, being a vocal proponent of Black Lives Matter, and supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe population, of which he became a member this summer– not to mention his excellent play in 2020-21, when he shot 50/40/90 for the season.
Even if Irving misses the entire 2021-22 season, the Nets remain one of the favorites to win the league championship. But Nets fans can perhaps take hope in one thing: Now that Irving has said that he’s protesting penalties for those who refuse to follow vaccination mandates, rather than the vaccine itself, the door is theoretically left open for him to declare his point made, get vaccinated, and return to the court.