Andrew Wiggins didn’t want to get vaccinated, but because of the vaccine mandate in the city of San Francisco — where Golden State’s Chase Center sits — he had to take the shot to play home games. Wiggins eventually did it. He still regrets it.
However, Irving wasn’t the only Net who didn’t want to get the shot, reports Josh Kosman and Brian Lewis at the New York Post.
“Kyrie wasn’t the only one on the Nets who didn’t want to get vaccinated,” a source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Post.
“No one was expecting the mandate the way in which he wouldn’t be able to play. No one expected it,” a source close to Irving said. “The entire thing was that vaccination was absolutely going to be a choice and not anything that was forced.”
The Post story details how then-New York mayor Bill de Blasio changed the wording of the New York vaccine mandate in a way that players for the Nets had to be vaccinated to play at home (there was thought to be a loophole that if the player lived in New Jersey, he could be considered “visiting” and allowed to play, but that loophole was closed). Nets owner Joseph Tsai was pro-vaccine, although the Nets say they were caught off guard by de Blasio’s change on the mandate and they didn’t have time to lobby for a change.
“[Tsai] laid it out that you needed to be vaccinated or you can’t play,” a source close to the situation said. “A number of players did not want to get vaccinated. They all decided to get vaccinated except Kyrie. … The thinking was the players would all blink.”
Irving didn’t blink.
Then the dominos started to fall. Irving didn’t play home or road games until mid-season, the Nets never gelled, James Harden forced his way out to Philadelphia (and Ben Simmons never suited up for the Nets), Boston swept Brooklyn out of the playoffs, the Nets would not give a max extension to Irving, and now Durant asked for a trade. How it all ends, nobody knows.
While the NBA pushed for players to get vaccinated and touted its 97% vaccination rate, there were players who were not comfortable with it. A lot of history made Black people — not just athletes — hesitant to trust the vaccine. However, for most NBA players there was a serious financial calculation involved — professional athletes (especially the average role player) have a short window to earn money, and not getting paid for a year was not a real option. They needed the checks, and like many people around the nation in other professions, they got the shot to keep working and getting paid. Irving, with max contracts and shoe deals already in his bank account, had a different calculus.
Enough people in the nation getting the vaccine helped ease the strain on hospitals nationwide, because vaccinated people have, on average, less severe symptoms from the coronavirus. The NBA was part of promoting vaccinations.
But no doubt, in a different environment, many players may have waited to get the vaccine, if they did at all.