In the wake of the Brooklyn Nets deciding Kyrie Irving won't play for the team until he is eligible to be a full participant, the sidelined NBA star dispelled rumours that he would retire over New York's vaccine mandate, while attempting to provide further context for his decision to be unvaccinated by insisting he was doing what was best for him.
"Don’t believe that I'm retiring," Irving said during an Instagram Live he conducted late Wednesday night. "Don’t believe that I'm gonna give up this game for a vaccine mandate or staying unvaccinated. Don't believe any of that."
Municipal public health guidelines in Brooklyn bar unvaccinated individuals from entering public spaces like arenas, a policy which would have made it impossible for him to play in at least the Nets' 41 home games. He would have been eligible to practice, however, following a ruling last Friday by the city that deemed the Nets' practice facility a private office and not subject to New York's vaccine mandates.
The team decided, though, that the only way for Irving to be a member of the Nets this season is if he was a "full participant," able to partake in home games, away games and practices. In turn, he was jettisoned to the sidelines until his vaccination status changed.
"Kyrie's made it clear that he has a choice in this matter and it's ultimately going to be up to him what he decides," general manager Sean Marks said. "We respect the fact that he has a choice, he can make his own and right now what's best for the organization is the path that we're taking."
Given the fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains an outside chance the mandates themselves could change over the course of the season, too, which could create another pathway to Irving's return. There is no indication at this time from city officials that such a development is likely.
"I am doing what's best for me," Irving said on Wednesday. "I know the consequences here and if it means that I'm judged and demonized for that, that's just what it is. That's the role I play, but I never wanted to give up my passion, my love, my dream just over this mandate."
For each game that Irving misses due to being unvaccinated, the 29-year-old is slated to lose just over $380,000, in accordance with an agreement that was struck between the league and players' union for how to navigate this novel situation.
"It's not about the money, baby," Irving said. "It's not always about the money. It's about choosing what is best for you. You think I really want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to give up my job?"
Despite the wide-ranging nature of his Instagram Live comments, Irving did not explicitly detail why getting the COVID-19 vaccine wasn't the best choice for him.
Editor’s note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Canada who are looking to learn more about vaccines, or the country’s pandemic response, can find up-to-date information on Canada’s public health website.
Instead, he cited discomfort over his perception of how vaccination policies were being handled by the NBA and society at large.
"You know, people are losing their jobs to these mandates," Irving said, discussing the policies which have been put in place by some employers and regions that require workers to be vaccinated to work in public settings, with the aim of promoting safety for both employees and the community. "People are having to make choices with their own lives, which I respect, you know, and I don't want to sit here and and play on people's emotions, either.
"Just use logic. You know, what would you do? You know, if you felt uncomfortable going into the season, when you were promised that you would have exemptions or that you didn't have to be forced to get the vaccine.
It is unclear at this time what exemptions Irving is claiming to have been promised. The NBA players' union, on which Irving serves as a vice president, was not believed to have agreed to a vaccine mandate and had denied the league's proposals for one to be implemented, according to prior reports from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The referees' union, however, has agreed to one.
"You know, this wasn't an issue before the season started," Irving said. "This wasn't something that I foresaw coming that I was prepared for it and I had a chance to strategize on what was going to be best for me and my family. I came into the season thinking that I was going to be able to play ball, you know, be able to use my my talent to continue to, you know, inspire or influence people in the right way."
The pandemic, of course, was an issue long before the season started. The NBA season being derailed by Rudy Gobert's positive COVID-19 test in March of 2020 marked one of the first North America-wide moments of recognition that the virus' spread would tangibly change day-to-day life.
Since then, in America alone, there have been more than 700,000 known COVID-19 deaths, making the coronavirus pandemic the deadliest in American history.
In addition to safeguards like masking, social distancing and limiting the size of indoor gatherings, vaccines were long seen as a way out of the pandemic that would return life -- and sports with it -- back to some semblance of normalcy as long as enough people were able to be vaccinated.
Globally, more than 3.76 billion people have received at least a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far, a number that is equal to about 48.9 per cent of the world population. New York, Irving's immediate community, has one of the highest vaccination rates in America, with 84 per cent of residents aged 12 and up -- those who have been eligible for the vaccine the longest -- having received at least one dose.
"Do what's best for you, but I'm not going to advocate for either side, I am doing what's best for me," Irving said, delivering what he called his closing remarks. "...I love this game. Like, love the game. But sometimes you really got to make choices that ultimately can affect that. And it's unfortunate, but that's where we are in 2021."