Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving is unvaccinated and will not be able to play in Brooklyn home games because he does not meet a New York City vaccine mandate for many indoor spaces.
Irving — long willing to embrace provably false conspiracy theories such as the earth being flat or that the moon landing was faked — is now liking online posts about the COVID-19 vaccine containing microchips (which, again, is provably false). Matt Sullivan broke it down in an article on NBA anti-vaxxers at Rolling Stone.
Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.” This Moderna microchip misinformation campaign has spread across multiple NBA locker rooms and group chats, according to several of the dozen-plus current players, Hall-of-Famers, league executives, arena workers and virologists interviewed for this story over the past week.
There is no vaccine mandate for NBA players partly because the players’ union will not allow it. Still, about 90% of players are vaccinated, according to multiple reports and a statement from Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBA players union. That far outpaces the national vaccination rate averages but also trails the NFL vaccination rate (93.7%). Vaccines have proven to both slow the spread of the coronavirus and help protect the vaccinated from the worst of the disease.
Irving and his Nets teammates open training camp this week in San Diego, away from the vaccine mandate issue. Nets GM Sean Marks said a couple of players on the team did not currently meet the New York City mandate, but he hoped by the time the season started this would not be an issue. That, however, is up to Irving.
The NBA also had at one point discussed daily testing of unvaccinated players, plus tight restrictions on those players and how they interacted with the rest of the team — being separated both in the locker room and during travel, for example. However, in its final memos to teams outlining COVID procedures for the league, the NBA backed away from off-day testing and more, Sullivan reports at Rolling Stone.
No player will be forced to undergo off-day testing, league sources confirmed, despite the NBA suggesting it in earlier guidance. Socially-distanced travel is now “suggested.” Players who aren’t fully vaxxed and seek outside labs for regular testing must get league approval, but their tests will otherwise be supervised by their teams — the kind of states-rights amalgam of governance preferred by players. A league source says NBA regulators are prepared to guard against forged vaccine cards by sweeping state databases for proof, but only if elevated to their attention.
“It requires extra vigilance in that we have a separate set of protocols for non-vaccinated players, so they’re already treated differently in terms of what’s allowed,” says David Weiss, the NBA executive who oversees player health.
The league reportedly will require players on the bench to wear masks.
The United States — and particularly the unvaccinated and counties/states with low vaccination rates — were hit hard by the coronavirus’s much more contagious Delta variant. Fortunately, the number of new cases of COVID-19 nationally seems to have peaked, although areas of the nation with low vaccination rates are still being hit hard.