Nets tell Kyrie Irving: No vax, no thanks!
Team bans guard from practicing or playing with teammates
This is either the Brooklyn Nets putting their collective feet down, or one last-ditch effort to get Kyrie Irving vaccinated before the start of the 2021-22 season.
On Tuesday morning, Nets general manager Sean Marks officially announced that Irving, who is the lone vaccination holdout on the Brooklyn roster, would not be allowed to play or practice alongside his teammates, be it at Barclays Center, the HSS Training Center or on the road this season.
“Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, 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 team-issued statement.
“Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.”
That wasn’t the story for most of this training camp or exhibition season.
The Nets, perhaps hopeful that Irving would eventually get at least his first vaccine shot and be eligible to participate fully in the most-anticipated season in Brooklyn basketball history, went along with the notion that their superstar point guard may only be available for road games.
Last weekend, Mayor De Blasio, who established the COVID-19 vaccination mandates at Barclays and Madison Square Garden, even made it possible for Irving to practice with the Nets in Sunset Park, ruling that the team’s training facility was a privately run business.
Irving practiced both Saturday and Sunday, but sat out his third consecutive preseason game Monday night in Philadelphia.
The questions surrounding Irving’s status for Thursday’s preseason finale vs. Minnesota at Barclays or Tuesday’s regular-season opener at defending NBA champion Milwaukee kept mounting.
Kevin Durant, James Harden and head coach Steve Nash all insisted through this process that they wanted Irving ready to go for another run at Brooklyn’s first major pro sports title since 1955.
“We’re just trying to navigate this thing,” Nash said before the Nets lost to the 76ers on Monday.
“We don’t really know what’s going to happen tomorrow. So I think really it’s … we’re just trying to take our time to figure out what everything means.”
Marks and Nets owner Joe Tsai also kept mostly mum on the matter, respecting Irving’s privacy as well as his choice not to receive a vaccination shot.
But Tuesday’s edict that Irving would neither play nor practice for Brooklyn as long as he remained un-vaxed changed the game for Irving, who is eligible for free agency next summer, and the Nets.
“It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice,” Marks went on.
“Our championship goals for the season have not changed, and to achieve these goals each member of our organization must pull in the same direction.”
Meaning Irving is the only one not pulling in that direction, even if it is his right to choose whether or not to get vaxed.
Though this decision likely began at the very top and worked its way down, there is no doubt that some Nets players weighed in on the matter, especially Durant and Harden, both of whom are vaxed and ready to lead the Nets to the first championship in franchise history.
“Ultimately, this decision was Joe Tsai and myself,” Marks insisted. “And this decision came down to what we felt was the right move for the organization at this time,”
Irving can still get vaxed and show up for Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee, or at any other point in the grueling 82-game run-up to the playoffs, where the Nets got knocked out by the Bucks in seven tough games last season.
But if he doesn’t, and this issue lingers throughout the campaign, the Nets have already let it be known that they are not interested in a part-time player, be it Irving or anyone else on the roster.
“We are excited for the start of the season and look forward to a successful campaign that will make the borough of Brooklyn proud,” Marks said.
Nothing would make Nets fans more proud than seeing Irving on the hardwood Thursday night against the Timberwolves on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, or at least vaccinated and active for the team’s regular-season home opener vs. Charlotte on Oct. 24.
Barring either of those scenarios, however, it won’t take long for Nets fans to forget Irving, especially if Durant, Harden and the rest of Brooklyn’s stacked roster does just fine without him.
“He has a choice to make, and he made his choice,” Marks noted.
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