NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving can keep refusing to get the COVID vaccine, he just won’t play for the Brooklyn Nets until he does.
The Nets announced Tuesday that Irving would not play or practice with them until he could be a full participant, ending the idea that he would play in only road games.
Irving hasn’t said he isn’t vaccinated, asking for privacy when he spoke via Zoom during the team’s media day on Sept. 27.
But he had rarely been with the team in New York, where a mandate requires professional athletes playing for a team in the city have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play or practice in public venues.
“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.”
Teams aren’t allowed to reveal private details of players’ health. But asked Tuesday if Irving was vaccinated, Marks said: “If he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think that’s probably pretty clear.”
Marks said he and owner Joe Tsai together made the decision, adding that it came through discussions with Irving and his associates.
“Kyrie loves to play basketball, wants to be out there, wants to be participating with his teammates,” Marks said. “But again, this is a choice that Kyrie had and he was well aware of that.”
Irving wasn’t even eligible to practice with the Nets in New York until Friday, when the city told the team that its training facility was considered a private venue.
Irving then joined the team at an outdoor practice Saturday and worked out with the Nets on Sunday, but didn’t play in Brooklyn’s exhibition game at Philadelphia on Monday.
Coach Steve Nash had said that the Nets knew they were going to be missing Irving for some games. For now, at least, it will be all of them.
With Kevin Durant, James Harden and Irving, the Nets were considered a favorite to win the NBA title. They were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of last season’s playoffs after Irving sprained his ankle and missed the final three games.
Marks conceded that the Nets weren’t as strong without Irving, though they may still be good enough.
“At this point in time, the Nets have more than enough to win a championship,” said Richard Jefferson, a former Nets star who now works for YES Network. “I think adding Kyrie makes them, in my opinion, a heavy favorite and that’s just kind of is what it is. With Kyrie this team can win 55, 60 games. Without Kyrie, this team could still win 55 games.”
Marks wouldn’t predict how long Irving would be away from the team or get into whether the Nets would consider trying to trade him.
“The hope is that we have Kyrie back,” Marks said. “We’ll welcome him back in open arms under a different set of circumstances and so we need to wait and see how that transpires. But in the meantime, we need to focus on the 16 players that are going to be on this roster moving forward with us.”
NBA players are not required to be vaccinated, but they face more testing and restrictions on their ability to be around their teammates. The league had said that players wouldn’t be paid for games they miss because they are ineligible to play.
Marks said Irving would still be paid for road games.
Teammates had said they were supportive of Irving’s decision, but Marks seemed to indicate there was concern for the fan reaction. New York was hit hard in early March 2020 by the virus and the Nets’ arena became a vaccination site this spring.
“There are countless, countless workers who have lost jobs because of this, there are people who have lost loved ones and so forth and as I’ve mentioned before this is serious,” Marks said. “And we play a game of basketball. And although it’s serious and we take our job extremely seriously, these are mandates that right now we don’t have any control over. All we can do is abide by them and think that science and the people governing — whether it’s our city, whether it’s our state, whether the country — are making the right calls for us all to get back and to move on into a healthy and safer environment.”