Nets star Kyrie Irving doesn’t think it’s fair to say that his decision not to get vaccinated – and what it cost him in the end – makes him an unreliable teammate.
However, that was how the contract negotiations played out, and it was his status as unvaccinated in the city, which did not exempt professional athletes from vaccinations until the final weeks of the regular season, that ultimately sealed his fate.
“At the end of the season, we started having some[talks]that I felt were going in the right direction,” the seven-time All-Star said from the podium at the HSS training center on Monday. “But it didn’t end well with the transition to free will and what it looked like in the long run and I understood all the Nets points of view and I respected that and I respected that (but) I don’t I don’t understand how my vaccination has suddenly become a stigma in my career that I don’t want to act, or I’m willing to give up everything to be the voice of the voiceless. And I’ll stand here and say that it wasn’t the only intention I had was to be the voice of the voiceless: I had to stand on something that had to be bigger than me.”
Irving was eligible for a four-year, $182 million contract extension two summers ago when he and Nets general manager Shawn Marks began discussions about an extension – around the same time Marks said both Irving and James Harden would be “signed, sealed and delivered” as a franchise. players for many years. But shortly after that press conference, New York City introduced a COVID-19 vaccination mandate that included no exemptions for professional athletes.
“Once the vaccination calls came in, you knew how it would affect home games,” Marks said. “That’s when contract negotiations stalled.”
“We should have figured this out before training camp last year, but it just didn’t happen because of my unvaccinated status,” Irving added. “I understood their point of view and I just had to deal with it. To be honest, this pill was hard to swallow.”
As a result of this mandate, Irving appeared in only 29 regular season games last season. The Nets also ruled that he was ineligible for road play until the league-wide outbreak of COVID-19 forced them to return the All-Star defenseman back to the rotation after the first quarter of the season. Irving played in just 103 games with Brooklyn in his first three seasons, and the lack of games meant he and the Nets couldn’t find common ground on a contract extension this offseason.
The Nets did not offer Irving a full five-year guaranteed maximum extension worth $245 million. He will become a free agent next season after choosing the $36.5 million player option this summer.
“I gave up four years, 100 something million, deciding not to get vaccinated, and it was a contractual decision: get vaccinated or not get vaccinated, and there is a certain degree of uncertainty about your future, whether you are going to be in it. league, will you be on this team, ”said Irving. “So I had to face the real circumstances where I lost my job because of this decision. So I dealt with all these emotions, trying to ultimately secure my future for my family. So many decisions to make, but many truthful conversations that gave me the peace of mind to get back and really just be all in.”
However, co-star Kevin Durant provides examples of how Irving can be trusted in his absence. While Durant treated an Achilles injury for the entire 2019-20 season, Irving changed clothes and got injured a few times before the league went on hiatus and then went to the Orlando Bubble.
In his second year, Irving played in 54 games and Duran played in 55. However, he missed a two-week stint due to a riot in the nation’s capital and also suffered an ankle injury in the second round against Milwaukee. Bucks.
“You could say that in the first year, he was more reliable than we were,” Durant said. “Last year, if not for the vaccine, he would have played. There is no mandate for vaccination this year. A year ago, when I played with him, he was very reliable, so as soon as the mandate ended, I decided that he would be here every day. And he loves to play. I shouldn’t have said it. You all know this.
Irving also said that the stigma associated with his decision not to get vaccinated also discouraged teams from trading for him. He’s universally known as one of the most gifted players in basketball – both as a member of the 50-40-90 Shot Efficiency Club and as the player who scored the NBA Championship winning shot over Steph Curry in the 2016 NBA Finals – but few teams were interested in a trade. him when he was looking for options to sign and trade this offseason.
“There were options, but not many. I’ll tell you so, he said. “Because again it’s a stigma whether I want to play or not, whether I’m going to be committed to the team – which I thought was really unfair at times, but also the timing was perfect to be able to put it on me. because I was not available.”
Marks said that he supported Irving’s decision against a COVID-19 vaccine, and that although Irving said that he thought an ultimatum had been given – either get vaccinated or not have a long-term contract – there was in fact no ultimatum.
Marx echoed Durant’s call to accountability.
“It goes back to this: you need people you can rely on, people who are always there and accountable. All of us: staff, players, coaches, you name it,” he said. “This is not an ultimatum to get a vaccine. This is entirely a personal choice. I support Kirie. I think if he wants to, he has made this choice. It is entirely his prerogative.”
Irving will have the opportunity to prove this season that the stigma is not true, and that his availability patterns and vaccination status are two different things.