Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will not take part in team games or training until he gets vaccinated against COVID-19, the National Basketball Association (NBA) team has announced, rejecting a proposal to allow him to play part-time in order to skirt regulations in New York.
Nets General Manager Sean Marks said on Tuesday that Irving effectively will not be part of the team until he is “eligible to be a full participant”.
New York City, where the Nets’ home arena is located, has imposed a vaccine mandate for stadiums, casinos and museums.
“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,” Marks said in a statement on Tuesday.
“It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice.”
Irving played a major part in the Nets’ season last year, averaging 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds to help the team reach the Eastern Conference semifinals. He risks losing millions from his $35.3m salary this season.
But Marks said the Nets are not looking to offload Irving and would welcome him back with “open arms … under a different set of circumstances”.
The United States, where coronavirus vaccines have been widely available for months, has been struggling to overcome vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine sentiment. The country is still averaging more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths daily despite a recent dip in the number of new cases.
The pandemic has killed more than 700,000 people across the country.
Irving has not publicly explained why he refuses to take the vaccine. “I am protected by God and so are my people. We stand together,” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday, without elaborating.
Brandon Robinson, an NBA analyst with the Bally Sports Network, said he was not surprised by the Nets’ announcement on Tuesday.
“Those that I’ve spoken with simply feel as though they want to be on one accord, and Kyrie Irving has not been vaccinated … and they don’t really want a part-time player,” Robinson told Al Jazeera.Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, left, guards Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs [Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports]
“Ninety-five percent of the NBA is vaccinated,” he said. “The Nets are moving in this way. It’s a week before the season begins and their Big 3 of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are expected to make it to the big dance, to the championship.
“So I wasn’t really surprised. It’s their prerogative, it’s a business, and some feel as though he (Irving) needs to conform to that.”
Knowing the type of person Irving is and having covered his career since 2013, Robinson added that he did not think the Nets guard would get vaccinated.
The NBA season is set to kick off on October 19 with the Nets taking on the reigning-champion Milwaukee Bucks.