Sports

Kyrie Irving’s vaccination decision has consequences for others, too

What are we going to do about Kyrie Irving?

Over the last 10 years, that might have been the most frequently asked question in the NBA.

Nobody ever quite knows what to do about Irving, which makes him the most intriguing, maddening and polarizing figure in the league. Last May, Drederick Irving told The Post that his son is “probably the most misunderstood person in sports.” Kyrie would have it no other way.

But in some cases the mystery surrounding the seven-time All-Star is less benign than in others. Irving is currently hurting his team in Brooklyn by not showing up for practice. The Nets would like to win the championship this season that they didn’t win last season, when Irving got hurt in the playoffs. If the point guard declines to meet the New York City mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for indoor events, he will severely compromise the Nets’ chances of winning that title.

Staying on brand, Irving has yet to publicly disclose his reasons for not getting vaccinated, and for being the only member of his team ineligible to practice and play in Brooklyn (and in Madison Square Garden, for two games against the Knicks). Though he’ll lose more than $380,000 for every game he misses because of local health protocols, starting with Friday night’s preseason reunion with the defending-champion Bucks, Irving won’t just be sacrificing money. He will be sacrificing some of his credibility as a thought-provoking voice on vital social issues.

Kyrie Irving could miss up every Nets home game, as well as two games at Madison Square Garden.
Corey Sipkin

Irving has rightfully spoken out against systemic inequities and racial discrimination, and he has backed up his words with considerable financial commitments to people and communities in need.

“My goal out here, my purpose,” Irving said last spring, “is to help humanity.”

He’s not serving that goal or purpose right now, not when nearly 5 million people around the world have died from COVID-19, including more than 700,000 Americans. As much as humanity needs more people to address the social issues that Irving regularly raises, it doesn’t need another public figure ignoring the best available solution to a staggering health tragedy.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote on his Substack that when an athlete “has a broken leg or heart attack or their child is in an accident, they don’t say to the doctors, ‘Don’t do anything until I do more research.’ They beg the medical experts to help.” Abdul-Jabbar added that if athletes “can’t muster the courage to do the right thing, then the NBA and every other league governing body must step in and mandate vaccinations for players, coaches, and staff in order to protect the team, the fans, and the community. Players are free to choose not to get vaccinated, but they should have the courage of their moral convictions to sit out the season, sustained in the righteousness of their choice. They’ve already proven they are not team players.”

If Irving were a golfer or tennis player, his unwillingness to get vaccinated to conform to local law wouldn’t hurt other athletes. But in basketball, his decisions have consequences for others.

This isn’t just about boosting his own basketball legacy, or those of Kevin Durant and James Harden. If Irving disqualifies himself from at least 43 of 82 regular-season games, all home practices and all home playoff games, the dramatic impact on the Nets could negatively impact the careers of middle- and bottom-of-the-roster players. Those men will never make anything close to $36 million a year.

 Kevin Durant #7, James Harden #13 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn’s Big 3 — Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving — could see a dramatic impact on their championship chase if Irving misses over half the season.
Getty Images

Of the more than 95 percent of NBA players who are vaccinated, surely some were motivated to protect their teammates in more ways than one. Irving? “He’s a very thoughtful human being,” a longtime friend of his and Irving’s family, former New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey, told The Post on Thursday. “But at the end of the day, Kyrie is doing to do what he thinks is right. Nobody is going to push him into doing the right thing. He’ll do that on his own. And if he has to lose money, that’s not going to bother him.”

Codey, who is fully vaccinated (including a booster shot), declined to say what he thought of Irving’s unvaccinated status. At Nets camp, Durant, Harden and head coach Steve Nash have talked about Irving’s position and their hope that he’ll ultimately join them. But their comments are generally all over the place because they don’t know what to say.

Deep down, the Nets know they can’t possibly absorb extended in-season absences and Irving playing fewer than half the games, without practice time, and still have a functioning season. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

So a couple of more questions: 1) Will Irving really give the Nets no choice but to suspend him for all games and force him to fight for his money through the union or the courts?; and 2) Will he really abandon Durant like this after KD signed up to play with him?

In the end, it all comes down to the shot. Kyrie Irving should finally take one for the team.

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