With a quarter of the NBA regular season complete, the Brooklyn Nets continue to play good basketball. They lead the Eastern Conference with a 16-7 record without star point guard Kyrie Irving, who remains unvaccinated and has not played due to New York City’s COVID-19 mandates that restrict him from entering the Barclays Center for home games.
The Nets still have championship aspirations, and the presence of Irving, who averaged 27 points, five rebounds and six assists last season, would certainly help in achieving that goal. They are still paying the seven-time All-Star for the road games he misses due to the team’s decision to not employ him as a part-time player for away contests.
“From what I’ve seen, they’re still a good team without Kyrie, but they definitely need him,” former Nets guard Deron Williams recently told Bally Sports. “I hope everything gets figured out. But as far as my thoughts on Kyrie, he’s doing what’s best for him. I respect what he wants to do.”
While he has been away from the Nets, Irving has kept a low profile. However, last month, he attended Seton Hall’s season opener against Farleigh Dickinson at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., to show his support for Pirates guard Bryce Aiken, whom Irving has been a mentor.
“I learn a lot from him,” Aiken told Bally Sports. “I don’t just learn about basketball from him, but I learn how to carry myself on and off the court.”
During the game, Irving sat courtside next to retired NBA veteran Tim Thomas, who said Irving has a desire to get more involved in grassroots basketball. “We spoke about doing some upcoming things with N.J. and Jersey basketball,” Thomas told Bally Sports.
Irving has not been sitting idly. According to people close to him, the seven-time All-Star has been working out pretty regularly, focusing on cardio, weight training and meditation, and spending time with his immediate family. “This is the happiest that I’ve seen Kyrie in years,” one source said.
But the question remains: Will he get vaccinated?
At the Nets’ media day in September, Irving answered reporters’ questions via Zoom but asked for privacy when asked if he would get vaccinated. Among Irving’s circle, the general consensus is that he is not anti-vaccination and believes everyone has the right to make their own decision. His apprehension about the COVID vaccine stems from his concerns about the possibility of long-term side effects, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are “extremely unlikely.”
Those closest to him also have shared that Irving knows anything he says will be magnified and scrutinized and he doesn’t want to be viewed as an anti-vaxxer. He’s not taking this stance to be a voice for the voiceless. He’s just not trusting of the available vaccines, according to sources.
Irving also does not want to get vaccinated because of bad experiences with his health due to basketball injuries over the years.
Since his freshman year at Duke, Irving has missed 261 out of 950 games, including the last five of the 2015 NBA Finals when a fractured kneecap required surgery and forced him to miss 29 games the following season. His 2018 knee surgery in Boston was a corrective procedure because the screws from his 2015 surgery caused an infection in his knee. Moreover, a 2019 shoulder injury became difficult to diagnose and ultimately forced him to have surgery in 2020.
“Based on his last three or four years, I can see why he’d be apprehensive,” a source shared.
Irving has adopted a 100-percent plant-based diet, so he could wait until a plant-based version of the vaccine has been completed and approved. One such vaccine is undergoing clinical trials with more than 30,000 people taking part, according to a report in August.
He also could wait and see if incoming New York City Mayor Eric Adams will change his mind on the city’s mandates, although that appears to be unlikely. In an interview with CNN, Adams said New York City would not change the rule that prohibits him from playing at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I think the NBA and Kyrie (are) going to come to a conclusion on this,” the Mayor-elect said. "I'm a Nets fan, and I love Kyrie. I think he's a piece that we need for a championship.”