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No Vax, no pay in Brooklyn for Kyrie Irving

Nets point guard could lose up to $400,000 per home game

September 30, 2021 John Torenli, Sports Editor
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While the Nets continue to prepare for their preseason opener in Los Angeles this weekend, Brooklynites are waiting to see if Kyrie Irving will be eligible to play in our borough this season.

Irving, the lone vaccination holdout on the Nets’ roster, is not allowed to practice or play in Brooklyn this season.

At least not until he receives at least one vaccination shot, as per Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mandate.

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The seven-time All-Star and New Jersey native asked for “privacy” when questioned via zoom Monday whether he was vaccinated or not, or if he intended to do so ahead of the most anticipated season in Nets history.

On Wednesday, the NBA laid down the law, indicating that any unvaccinated player in New York or San Francisco would not be allowed to participate in home games.

Irving would lose his entire paycheck, upwards of $400,000, for any game missed at Downtown’s Barclays Center, where the Nets are scheduled to host Milwaukee in their home exhibition opener on Oct. 8.

“Any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for games that he misses,” NBA Executive Vice President of Communications Mike Bass said in a league-issued statement.

Though he has averaged better than 27 points per game since arriving here in the summer of 2019, Irving has continued to be one of the NBA’s most mercurial talents.

He sat out seven games last season while offering very little in the way of an explanation and was ultimately fined by the league for violating COVID-19 protocols.

Irving also missed all but 20 games his first year in Brooklyn due to injury and sat out the team’s playoff series at the NBA’s bubble site in Florida.

The Duke alum wasn’t able to help his team get through last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals due to an ankle injury. Brooklyn was eliminated in seven tough games by eventual NBA champion Milwaukee.

“I know that I’ll be there every day no matter what and just be present for my teammates as one of the leaders on the team and be there for my growing tribe off the court,” Irving said Monday when asked if he would be traveling to the team’s training site in San Diego, California.

Irving is with the Nets on the West Coast, practicing and preparing along with his teammates after failing to show up at the team’s media day at Barclays earlier this week.

“I know the focus has to be at an all-time high, no distractions,” he said.

“This is the last thing I wanted to create, was more distractions and more hoopla and more drama around this. I’m doing my best to maintain this with good intentions and a good heart.”

His heart may be in the right place and no one can question Irving’s right not to get vaccinated.

The only issue is, and there always seems to be one with Irving, the Nets could be without one of their three superstars when the campaign begins in earnest and Irving could see his 2021-22 salary cut in half if he continues to remain vax-free.

Irving is also in position to re-sign with Brooklyn for up to four years and $182 million, according to ESPN. But that extension will also likely be contingent on Irving completing his vaccination process at some point this year.

Nets head coach Steve Nash weighed in on Irving’s return while the team practiced in San Diego Wednesday.

“No, I haven’t talked to him about it,” Nash told the New York Post.

“I know he’s been great in camp, playing well and I’m excited to have him back on the floor. I’ve missed watching him play, coaching him. So, yeah, it’s just been great to have him back. So I really haven’t been involved with that side of things.”

Nets head coach Steve Nash still isn’t sure when, or if, Kyrie Irving will get his first vaccination shot ahead of the upcoming season. AP Photo by Morry Gash

Irving should be ready to go Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., when the Nets tip off against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.

Whether he’ll play in Brooklyn vs. the Bucks next week is still very much in the air.

“That’s on Kyrie and that’s his personal decision,” Nets forward Kevin Durant said.

“What he does is not on us to speculate what may happen. We trust in Kyrie, and I expect us to have our whole team at some point.”

The Nets’ trust in Irving will begin to wane the longer this vaccination issue hangs over a team predicted by many to not only represent the Eastern Conference in the 2022 NBA Finals, but to win the championship.

LaMarcus Aldridge is vaccinated and ready to return to Brooklyn this season, with or without non-vaccinated teammate Kyrie Irving. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II


NOTHING BUT NET: After hosting the Bucks here next week, the Nets will travel to Philadelphia on Oct. 11 before finishing up their preseason slate at Barclays vs. Minnesota on Oct. 14. … Forward LaMarcus Aldridge, back with Brooklyn after a brief retirement last season due to a heart scare, admitted that he never thought of rejoining any team other than the Nets when he made the decision to return. “I knew I was going to come back here,” said Aldridge Wednesday. “It was only a matter of unfinished business. I never got to really experience it with these guys. I never got to the postseason with these guys. It was kind of like the best thing for me was to come back here and let’s see what could have been or whatever. I enjoyed the guys here. They welcomed me with open arms. It was a very short stint here, but I enjoyed every day of it so why not come back?”

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