Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai has stated publicly in an interview with ESPN that he hopes star guard Kyrie Irving will receive the COVID-19 vaccine “as soon as possible.” The team has been without Irving due to his unvaccinated status, and it’s unclear when or if he’ll play this season.
Due to New York City’s health mandates — which Tsai said he doesn’t expect to change — unvaccinated persons are barred from entering Barclays Center, which is where the Nets play their home games. Though Irving would be allowed to practice with the team and play in road games based on the NBA’s rules, the Nets decided that they don’t want to indulge Irving as a part-time player.
“Obviously Kyrie has his own belief so I respect that,” Tsai said. “But we have to make a team decision. This is not a decision about him. This is a decision about where we go as a team. And it is just not tenable for us to have a team with a player that comes in and out, no home games, only away games. What do you do in practice then?”
“This week we have a whole stretch of six home games, so we won’t have Kyrie,” Tsai added. “So it became pretty clear to us. We are very much aligned among myself, [GM] Sean [Marks], coaching staff that this has to be [the decision], especially since we’re a team with pretty lofty aspirations. We don’t see any other way of running this team.”
Earlier this month, Irving went on Instagram to make his first public comment about his decision to not get vaccinated. In a long and at times rambling statement, Irving said he was not anti-vaccines, but was not comfortable with being forced to get one in order to play. He also claimed that someone promised him he would be able to get an exemption and said he would not be retiring over this issue.
Over the weekend, a group of anti-vaccine protestors gathered outside Barclays Center ahead of the Nets’ game against the Charlotte Hornets in support of Irving’s decision. At one point they tried to rush the doors, and security had to lock down the building as they tried to push the protestors back.
Without Irving, the Nets have gotten off to a slow start. They’re currently 2-3, with all of those losses coming by double digits. After their most recent defeat to the Miami Heat, Kevin Durant admitted that the team has missed Irving. “I know what you want me to say,” Durant said. “Yeah, we do miss Kyrie. We do. He’s a part of our team.”
Still, Durant believes that the Nets will pick things up and can be much better than they have been to start the season. Though he has been doing more than his fair share — 29.8 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game on 54.8 percent from the field — the Nets have not shot the ball well, nor seen the best from James Harden. If they start hitting shots and Harden plays better, Irving’s absence won’t be as noticeable.