The biggest storyline to come out of Monday's media days around the NBA was the vaccination status of players. While the league does not require players to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to play, referees and team staff who work closely with them are required to be fully vaccinated.
NBA legend and six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went against the league’s vaccine policy, telling Rolling Stone: “The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team.”
The NBA’s COVID protocols have left it up to the players to decide whether or not to get the vaccine, but requirements in some cities will determine who's allowed to step on the court.
Before the 2021-22 season begins next month, New York City and San Francisco will require NBA players on home teams to be vaccinated. Players would not be able to play without the vaccine unless they gain a medical or religious exemption. Players on visiting teams would be allowed to play.
Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins had his request for a religious exemption denied by the league last Friday. Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving answered questions remotely during the team's media day event on Monday, but he did not disclose his vaccination status when asked, choosing “to keep this private.”
In reiterating his stance on NBA players who refuse to get the vaccine, Abdul-Jabbar said he "can't accept" Irving's position.
"He's hiding behind procedure here,” Abdul-Jabbar told CNN's Don Lemon. “Either you understand what's going on and you're going to do the right thing, or you don't understand what's going on and you're going to continue to create all this confusion with your stance."
Abdul-Jabbar added that unvaccinated NBA players are not "behaving like good teammates or good citizens."
"This is a war that we're involved in, and masks and vaccines ... are the weapons that we use to fight this war," he said. "And when you're not going to be cooperative with that, you're working against the effort to make everybody safe. And we can't have it. That doesn't work for everybody."
The Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets were proud to announce that 100 percent of their rosters are vaccinated, Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would not reveal how many players received the vaccine. Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal wondered why people weren’t talking more about the reactions to the vaccine and how it could impact player's health.
“The more ignorance that is spread around, the easier it is to confuse people about what's happening,” Abdul-Jabbar said on CNN.
Although the acceptance of the vaccine has grown in America since its release, with about 77 percent of adults fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the African-American community are still among the least vaccinated demographic groups in the nation.
The NBA's 75th season begins Oct. 19 whether players are vaccinated or not. To get the NBA and its players on the same page, Abdul-Jabbar will continue encouraging them to get vaccinated if not for themselves but for others.
"We have to educate ourselves so that we understand what is being offered," he said on CNN. "These vaccines are safe and they are effective. And we have to fight this virus as a group. We can't have certain people feeling, 'Well, I don't have to do that.' That's insanity."