Due to a New York City mandate that requires individuals to have received at least one vaccine shot in order to enter public indoor venues, Irving is ineligible to play in over half of Brooklyn’s games this season. The Nets announced this week that Irving won’t be permitted to play or practice with the team – even on the road – until he can be a full-time participant.
Repeating many of the same points that were conveyed through sources by Shams Charania of The Athletic on Tuesday, Irving claimed on Wednesday that his decision is “not about being anti-vax,” adding that he’s “being true to what feels good for me” and understands the ramifications of remaining unvaccinated, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN details.
“I am going to just continue to stay in shape, be ready to play, be ready to rock out with my teammates and just be part of this whole thing,” Irving said, though he gave no indication that he plans to receive the vaccine. “This is not a political thing; this is not about the NBA, not about any organization. This is about my life and what I am choosing to do.”
The death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 700,000 in the United States and 4.5 million worldwide, while many others are still dealing with long-term health effects from the virus. Data has shown that the vaccines reduce the risk of infection and drastically lessen the likelihood of an affected individual being hospitalized or dying. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has stated that about 96% of the NBA’s players are vaccinated.
Irving said on Wednesday he was under the belief entering the fall that he’d be able to receive an exemption that would make him eligible to play in New York this season. It’s unclear whether or not he applied for a medical or religious exemption. Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins attempted to get a religious exemption in the hopes of circumventing a similar mandate in San Francisco, but his request was denied by the NBA and the city stated it wouldn’t have approved such an exemption anyway. Wiggins subsequently agreed to get vaccinated.
Irving, on the other hand, appears to be digging in his heels, telling viewers on his Instagram Live that he’s prepared to face the financial consequences of his decision.
The NBA has indicated that players who are ineligible to play in games due to local vaccine mandates will lose 1/91.6th of their salary for each game they miss. While the NBPA has pushed back against the league’s interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the expectation is that Irving’s stance will cost him $381K per game over the course of 43 games (41 in Brooklyn, plus two at Madison Square Garden), for a total of nearly $16.4MM in lost base salary, plus more in incentives that he’ll be unable to achieve.
Though it remains unclear if we’ll see Irving at all on the court this season, he stressed on Wednesday that he has no intention of walking away from basketball altogether.
“No, I am not retiring. And no, I am not going and leaving this game like this,” Irving said. “There is still so much more work to do.”
Nets general manager Sean Marks previously expressed interest in signing Irving to a contract extension this offseason, but multiple reports have suggested those discussions are no longer taking place, for obvious reasons.