Kyrie Irving feels Nets gave him ‘ultimatum’
Point guard's unvaccinated status affected contract talks
Kyrie Irving was seeking a long-term extension from the Brooklyn Nets this past summer that he never got.
But it was the extension Irving sought to sign before the 2021-22 campaign that he spoke about during the Nets’ initial media session Monday here in Brooklyn.
And according to the mercurial point guard, it all came down to whether he was vaccinated or not.
“I gave up four years, $100-and-something million deciding to be unvaccinated and that was the decision,” Irving said as the Nets began preparing for their Oct. 3 preseason opener vs. Philadelphia at Barclays Center.
“[Get this] contract, get vaccinated or be unvaccinated and there’s a level of uncertainty of your future, whether you’re going to be in this league, whether you’re going to be on this team, so I had to deal with that real-life circumstance of losing my job for this decision.”
Of course, Irving didn’t lose his job.
He did, however, sit out all but a handful of Brooklyn’s regular-season home games until March, when New York City eased its COVID-19 mandates.
Irving participated in games at Barclays down the stretch and was there when the Nets were swept out of the first round of the playoff by Boston.
Afterward, the New Jersey native and lifelong Nets fan insisted that he wanted to come back to our borough on a long-term deal. But the organization never gave him one, forcing Irving to take his player option of $36.5 million this coming campaign.
That drama played out right before fellow superstar Kevin Durant unsuccessfully tried to get himself traded out of Brooklyn. Irving was also reportedly shopped, but both players are here and ready for the 2022-23 campaign, even if there are some hard feelings, or at least misunderstandings.
What Irving viewed as “an ultimatum” from the Nets was simply a dilemna created by circumstances, according to Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks.
“There’s no ultimatum being given here,” Marks said. “Again, it goes back to you want people who are reliable, people who are here, and accountable. All of us: staff, players, coaches, you name it. It’s not giving somebody an ultimatum to get a vaccine.
“That’s a completely personal choice. I stand by Kyrie. I think if he wants, he’s made that choice. That’s his prerogative completely.”
Irving begged to differ, voicing his displeasure with making a business decision over his personal medical choices.
“We were supposed to have all that figured out before training camp last year,” he noted of initial extension talks. “And it just didn’t happen because of the status of me being vaccinated, unvaccinated. So, I understood their point and I just had to live with it. It was a tough pill to swallow, honestly.”
Probably not as tough as being a key member of a team touted to compete for an NBA title before being dumped into playoff obscurity by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Celtics.
But Irving is here and committed to driving the Nets to their first-ever championship and Brooklyn’s first major pro sports title since the 1955 Dodgers beat the hated Yankees.
“There was a level of uncertainty of what this was going to look like of me coming back,” he said. “And I had questions, they were answered truthfully. And that’s all I needed. And now it’s just having the support around me and giving the support to my teammates.”
Marks agreed with Irving’s assessment that the past was simply prologue to what the organization is hoping will be a banner year for a franchise that hasn’t reached the NBA Finals in two decades.
“At the end of the day, we’re happy that Kyrie is back here,” Marks said. “I’m listening to the press conference he had this morning and my takeaway from that is that he’s committed.
“He understands that in order for him to be a free agent and get what he rightfully wants, he’s going to have to show commitment out there. We’re happy to support him in any possible way throughout the season to make sure that he’s healthy and ready to go.”
NOTHING BUT NET: While the focus was on Irving’s revelations Monday, no one could ignore Durant’s explanation for why he wanted out this summer and even reportedly went as far as to ask Nets owner Joe Tsai to dismiss Marks and head coach Steve Nash. “There was a lot of uncertainty around our team last year,” Durant said. “I committed to this organization for four years last summer with the idea we were gonna play with that group that we kind of went on that little run to the second round [in the 2020 playoffs]. I felt like another year of that, us being healthy — we were building something towards the future. Then as the season went on, you seen what happened with our season, guys in and out of the lineup, injuries, just a lot of uncertainty, which built some doubt in my mind about the next four years in my career. I mean, I’m getting older and I want to be in a place that’s stable and trying to build a championship culture. So I had some doubts about that. I voiced them to Joe, and we moved forward from there.” … After hosting Philadelphia on Oct. 3, the Nets will host the Miami Heat at Barclays on Oct. 6 before closing out their exhibition slate at Milwaukee on Oct. 12 and Minnesota Oct. 14.
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