It is unclear where Kyrie Irving gets her vaccination information from. Hopefully, these weren’t the same sources that convinced him for a while that the Earth was flat.
So maybe it wasn’t much of a surprise on Tuesday, when science tripped the seven-time All-Star once again. Surrounded by a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in New York City that covers professional athletes and would have limited Irving to playing only on road games, the Brooklyn Nets gave him an ultimatum: a.) Shoot; or b.) take time off for the 2021-22 season.
The argument for a.) Is quite simple. The Nets pay Irving $ 34 million a year to merge with Kevin Durant and James Harden – two of the best players in the game – and perhaps gift Brooklyn an NBA title. But b.) Isn’t bad either.
Irving can stay glued to his couch while raising around $ 16 million. That’s because Nets general manager Sean Marks and owner Joe Tsai, who together decided that the “half a loaf” approach wasn’t worth disrupting, also said Irving would be paid for road games where he could have played.
“Will there be a pushback from Kyrie and her camp?” Marks said at a press conference. “I’m sure it’s not a decision they like. … But again, it’s a choice Kyrie had, and he was well aware of it. “
Irving dodged questions as to whether he was vaccinated, saying three weeks ago in a Zoom interview with reporters: “I think I would just like to keep this private, manage it the right way with my team and go ahead with the plan. “
Regardless of that plan, Marks made it clear that Irving, vice president of the NBA Players Association, was not among the 96% of players who the union said took the jab. “If he was vaccinated,” Marks said, “we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
It remains to be seen how much they still talk. It should be noted that the NBA was the first major sports league to end its season when the pandemic began to rage in March 2020, just hours after Commissioner Adam Silver learned that the Utah star Jazz Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. It was also the only league to imagine a single “bubble” to resume games and among the first to let some fans return to the stands. Those responsible are unlikely to start bending the rules now.
Irving is an endearing, inquisitive 29-year-old who does a lot of charity work behind the scenes, but he has a mile-long backlash streak. He fought the league over the bubble setup, then jumped on the Nets a few times last season, citing “personal reasons” only to be caught partying. He’s tried conspiracy theories before, most notably with his “the earth is flat” statement in a podcast interview in 2017.
Back then, just like now, Irving was shy about who he listened to on the subject and encouraged people to “do their own research.” But he’s no more qualified to pass judgment on the validity of vaccine studies than one of those researchers would take a quick break in the dying minutes of a big game.
Speaking of fat, more than a few former NBA greats have joined the campaign to convince not only Irving, but the few remaining holdouts, to get the shot. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, among others, presented it as a responsibility to their team-mates, and Michael Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Hornets, declared himself “in unison with the league, a strong supporter of science. “
Wherever Irving seeks advice, he better be done soon. His kind of talent doesn’t show up often, and the chance to play alongside Durant and Harden and add another NBA title to the one he claimed in Cleveland might not last long.
At this moment, Irving remains silent, possibly remembering the sting he felt after the Flat Earth episode. He tried to laugh about it, then repeated it in an interview months later with The New York Times, and laughed a second time before finally apologizing.
“To all science teachers, everyone comes to me… I’m sorry,” he said. “I apologize. I apologize.”
Silver – who like Irving went to see Duke – took a light-hearted approach to the whole thing at the time.
“Kyrie and I went to the same college,” he said at the time. “Maybe he took different courses.
This time, watching one of the game’s most popular players threaten to bow to an almost equally mistaken understanding of science, the Commissioner isn’t so amused.