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Kyrie Irving on getting vaccinated: “I’ve made my decision already and I’m standing on it”

There has been hope in Brooklyn that Kyrie Irving, back in the fold and playing games with teammates, would have a change of heart on getting vaccinated so he could play in home games, not just road games. Irving himself seemed to leave that door ajar.

Monday, Irving slammed the door shut.

After a loss to Cleveland in a Martin Luther King Day matinee where Kevin Durant’s absence was clearly felt, Irving was pressed by media members (Brian Lewis of the New York Post and Nick Friedel of ESPN) in his postgame press conference whether it being clear how much the team needed him would change his thinking on getting vaccinated. Irving shot that talk down.

Irving returned to his argument that he is opposed to being vaccinated because of the mandate. Rather than paraphrase Irving, here are his answers from the press conference (slightly edited for length):
“What I’m trying to better articulate is I’m not bringing science into the basketball game. Everyone’s feeling what’s going on in the real world. I’m walking around as an unvaccinated person, sort of saying I’ve already been separated into another group with the team. I’m just saying I’m human, I have decisions to make, a family to take care of, there are things that are just as important to me as being great at the game of basketball, or, you know, leaving a legacy.... What’s going on with me is I’m taking it one day at a time. That’s it. Nothing is guaranteed in this world right now. People are getting sick left and right. For me, I’m just trying to be a person who is just being a beacon of hope and light and just trying to shed as much as I can on the situation without talking myself into more BS and what is going on in this political world that we’re in right now. I just don’t want to bring science into this, and it always gets wrapped up, and I’m asked questions all the time about what’s my status. Man, if you were in my position, it would be easy for someone to say ‘why don’t you just get vaccinated?’ But you’re not. I made my decision already and I’m standing on it.”

"…But in terms of where I am with my life outside of [basketball], I stay rooted in my decision. That’s just what it is. It’s not going to be swayed by one thing in this NBA life that is somehow brought to my attention as being more important than what’s going on in the real world. It’s just not happening for me. Again, I respect everyone’s decision and I’m not going to try and convince anyone or anything like that, I’m just standing rooted in what I believe in. And though we’re dealing with this right now with Kev, I know I am protected by the organization, I’m protected by my teammates, all the doctors I talked to, I’m rooted.”

“You’re bringing my vaccination status into a basketball game, and I live the majority of my life away from this. So when I say I’m not getting vaccinated, I’m making a choice with my life. Somehow it gets, like Nick’s saying, ‘what about the basketball?’ No, bro. We live in a real world. This is great to be able to do this, I am grateful for the opportunity, I love playing with my teammates, I love playing on the Nets, but I’ve already been away enough times to think about the processes and be able to make this decision, stand strong, and understand people are going to agree, people are going to disagree. The circumstances at hand, I’m praying they change and we can do things differently, and that’s not just for me. That’s for all the unvaccinated people being fired from work. It’s not just about me, that’s been my message the whole time.”

Irving is not mandated to get the vaccine to do his job, the NBA players union pushed back against a vaccine mandate (about 97% of players are vaccinated and 70% have gotten the booster). However, Irving cannot play Nets home games in New York City (or against the Knicks, or in Toronto) because of the vaccine mandate in the city for indoor public spaces (including gyms and restaurants).

Irving may not want to bring science into the discussion because it does not support his case: The vaccine has proven safe, effective, and while it does not stop people from getting the virus (particularly the Omicron variant), it makes severe outcomes and hospitalizations far less likely. The best way to protect family, friends and the people close to you is by getting vaccinated.

However convoluted the logic of not getting the vaccine to protest the mandate may seem from the outside, it is Irving’s right.

That right may leave the Nets hanging — especially come the playoffs — but Irving sees this as something bigger than basketball. He’s financially well off enough to be able to make that stand (in part thanks to the Nets).