New York City’s vaccine mandate – which applies to many indoor locations, including professional sports arenas – exempts visiting athletes. The NBA won’t allow teams to violate the ordinance and accept the relatively modest fines.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via ESPN:
This law in New York, the oddity of it to me is that it only applies to home players. I mean, I think if ultimately that rule is about protecting people who are in the arena, it just doesn’t quite make sense to me that an away player who’s unvaccinated can play in Barclays but the home player can’t. So, to me, that’s a reason they should take a look at that ordinance.
First of all I think the rule is unfair. I believe that we are saying to out-of-town athletes that they can come in and not be vaccinated. Yet, New York athletes, you have to be vaccinated. And they also do this for entertainers. I want people to know that. Entertainers can come here without being vaccinated and perform. I think it’s unfair. And I’m not sure if a Boston fan created this rule. I don’t know. But I am really, really leery about sending the wrong message. Having this city close down again keeps me up at night. And the message we put in place – the rule was put in place – to start changing it now, I think it would send mixed messages. So, I’m struggling with this, just to be honest with you.
Adams almost sounds as if he has no agency in the situation. He could rescind the executive order – which was implemented by his predecessor Bill de Blasio – or even alter it to also ban unvaccinated visiting players.
Why is Silver speaking out now? The incongruity of New York’s mandate was obvious all along.
Irving and the Nets have already suffered serious consequences from the mandate. Irving has missed 43 games (and probably 15 game checks, as the Nets initially chose to sit him for road games with chemistry in mind). In part because of Irving’s unavailability, James Harden pushed for and got a trade to the 76ers, disrupting a potential title contender in Brooklyn.
Perhaps, Silver now sees a possibility for change. Coronavirus numbers are falling in New York and elsewhere.
As Adams weighs his internal conflict, Silver could allow the Nets to play Irving in home games and pay the fines. But a multi-billion business being able to afford the fines wouldn’t address the underlying unfairness – and would generate animosity toward the NBA.
A millionaire professional athlete, Irving is not a sympathetic figure. He could choose to get a vaccine that is generally safe and effective at reducing severe outcomes from coronavirus. But he isn’t the only New Yorker facing the difficult choice between having an unwanted medical procedure and protecting his salary. Allowing everyone in New York’s covered indoor spaces to make that decision for themselves wouldn’t really be a mixed message. Nor would requiring everyone in those places to get vaccinated, ending special treatment for visiting athletes and performers.
Though Irving’s fame has made him the face of this issue, it’s not just about him.
That said, there is a particular interest in Irving’s availability for Brooklyn home playoff games. How long will Adams uphold a mandate that even he calls “unfair”?