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Kyrie Irving will not play for the Brooklyn Nets until he is vaccinated or the city's vaccine mandate is lifted.
"Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant," Nets general manager Sean Marks announced in a prepared statement on Tuesday morning. "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."
Irving is reportedly unvaccinated against COVID-19. New York City requires proof of at least one dose of a vaccine for entry to large indoor gatherings, a mandate that extends to Barclays Center and its employees.
Asked directly to confirm whether Irving is unvaccinated against COVID-19, Marks said in a news conference on Tuesday, “If he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I think that’s pretty clear."
Irving was the only player under guaranteed contract with the Nets who did not attend the team's media day activities in Brooklyn on Sept. 27. He joined a Zoom call with reporters but refused to answer questions about his availability, only saying in snippets, "Everything will be released at a due date once we get this cleared up," "but that doesn't mean I'm putting any limits on the future for me being able to join the team," and, "this is the last thing I wanted to create was more distractions and more hoopla and more drama."
"Honestly, I like to keep that stuff private," he said. "I'm a human being first, and obviously living in this public sphere, there's just a lot of questions about what's going on in the world of Kyrie, and I would love to just keep that private and handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with a plan."
It turns out that plan currently does not include Irving. He did attend his team's training camp in San Diego and was cleared by the city last week to practice with the Nets at Brooklyn's HSS Training Center. However, the Nets determined it was more detrimental to serve Irving's part-time status than to exclude him entirely.
"It is imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice," Marks' statement said. "Our championship goals for the season have not changed, and to achieve these goals, each member of our organization must pull in the same direction."
The Nets remain title favorites without Irving, according to BetMGM.
NBA regulations and local guidelines allow Irving to play games outside his home city this season, so long as he returns negative COVID-19 tests, but the Nets nixed the notion of him only participating on road trips. Irving is under contract this season for $34.9 million. Each missed home game was expected to cost him 1/91.6th of his salary, or $381,181.22 per game and more than $15 million over the course of the season.
There will be no financial penalty for Irving's absence from road games, Marks told reporters on Tuesday, because that decision was made by the team. Irving, a vice president in the players' union, is believed to be the only player unable to play for the five teams in three NBA cities with COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers all reported full vaccination.
It is still unclear whether Irving will get the vaccine. Superstar teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden have publicly expressed support for Irving's personal choice, while also conceding they would prefer he were a full participant. They have been left to answer for Irving's absence.
Durant and Harden were scheduled to meet with Marks and Nets owner Joe Tsai on Monday to discuss their feelings about Irving's part-time participation, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Given the decisive statement the Nets issued on Tuesday morning, read into the results of that meeting what you will.
Marks was hopeful Irving would address the story from his point of view at a later date. The general manager also preferred to let each of Irving's teammates speak to their own opinions on the matter.
"The hope is we will welcome Kyrie Irving back with open arms under different circumstances," said Marks.
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