All-Star guard Kyrie Irving will not be able to play or practice with the Brooklyn Nets until he complies with New York’s COVID-19 vaccination rules, the team announced on Tuesday. In doing so, the Nets ended the idea of Irving playing only in road games.
“Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant,” Nets GM Sean Marks said in a statement. “Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose. Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.”
Irving then joined the team at an outdoor practice Saturday and worked out with the team Sunday, but didn’t play in Brooklyn’s exhibition game at Philadelphia on Monday. He hasn’t said he isn’t vaccinated, asking for privacy when he spoke via Zoom during the team’s media day on Sept. 27.
Irving 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, such as the Barclays Center.
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.
Marks told reporters on Tuesday that Irving will lose salary for the home games he misses while he is ineligible to play. He also said he is hoping Irving will be back at some point and the team will welcome him back if and when that happens.
“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,” 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.”
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.
Sean Marks: "The hope is that we'll have Kyrie back … we'll welcome him back with open arms under different circumstances."
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) October 12, 2021
Marks says he won't address hypotheticals on whether the Nets might trade Kyrie.
"The hope is that we'll have Kyrie back…In the meantime, we need to focus on the 16 players on the roster." https://t.co/4R750nsk4e
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) October 12, 2021
Marks wouldn’t predict how long Irving would be away from the team or get into whether the team 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.
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.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.