For the foreseeable future, Kyrie Irving is done playing and practicing with the Nets. And it sure sounds like they’re done talking about him.
Irving tried to clear the air Wednesday night, but instead just muddied the waters. In a long social media monologue he discussed his refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and said he had been promised he’d be allowed to play despite staying unvaccinated.
But that’s not happening, with his refusal to adhere to New York City vaccine mandates keeping him from playing at home, and the Nets deciding not to use Irving at all. Or in coach Steve Nash’s case, tune in to his star’s Instagram Live rant.
“I didn’t listen to it, and I think I’ve pretty much said everything I’ve had to say about it,” Nash said before Thursday’s preseason finale against Minnesota. “If something changes, we’ll talk about it. But I really want to focus on moving forward and our group and solutions to the challenge ahead of us.”
That response was to a question from The Post whether Irving had expressed the same sentiments to the Nets, or if there was anything in the session that surprised Nash. And arguably the most noteworthy part — other than Irving twice dismissing recent reports that he might retire — was his implication that he had been promised he’d be able to play despite remaining unvaccinated.
“What would you do if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you’d have exemptions or that you didn’t have to be forced to get the vaccine?” Irving said on Instagram Live. “This wasn’t an issue before the season started. This wasn’t something I foresaw coming where I prepared for it, I had a chance to strategize on what was going to be best for me and my family.”
Irving never said who or what organization misled him.
The NBA has its own set of health and safety protocols that — while they fall short of a vaccine mandate, something the NBPA has been against — are still restrictive for unvaccinated players. The NBA offers exemptions, but sources told The Post that Irving is not believed to have applied for one.
Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins applied for a religious exemption, but was rejected.
The New York City mandates (like similar ones for home players in San Francisco and Los Angeles) supersede anything that the league might rule.
“I came into the season thinking that I was just gonna be able to play ball, be able to use my talent to continue to inspire, influence people in the right way,” Irving said. “Why are you putting this on me?”
Atlanta guard Brandon Goodwin recently said on Twitch that the vaccine brought on the “minor respiratory condition” that ended his 2020-21 season.
Over 700,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19. A recent scientific study showed that over 90,000 deaths since June would’ve been avoided with vaccinations, and a staggering 49,000 last month alone.
The NBA sent a memo to all its teams on Sept. 1 that teams would follow all local mandates. New York mandates took hold on Sept. 13.
By Sept. 24, the league had announced that it had rejected Wiggins’ request for an exemption. The Warriors forward relented and promptly got vaccinated.
But while many in the Nets organization had expected Irving to have been vaccinated by the start of camp, now it seems unlikely he’ll relent anytime soon. It was telling that — when asked about experimenting with big lineups — Nash said the Nets had to “adapt to our new kind of roster, so to speak.
“I don’t know if I have anything exceptional to say on the matter other than when you lose an exceptional talent like that, your roster is built in a certain way over the parameters of having three guys. So everyone has to slide up a spot, or more. So we have to win with corporate knowledge, growth from last season, connectivity, team spirit and building those bonds that transfer on the court and off.”
Irving stated his stance wasn’t political or anti-vaccine, but the unintended consequences have made him a far-right darling, praised by Donald Trump Jr., senator Ted Cruz and congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.