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Though Kyrie Irving made his season debut with the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week, he was nowhere to be found on Friday night at the Barclays Center.
Irving, after his lengthy COVID-19 vaccine holdout, still isn’t allowed to play in home games in New York City due to a local mandate.
Though his presence certainly could have helped the Nets, who fell to the Milwaukee Bucks 121-109, Brooklyn star Kevin Durant said he isn’t going to try to urge Irving to go get the coronavirus vaccine.
"I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play — play every game," Durant said after the loss, via ESPN. "But I'm not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that's not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I'm not about to do that.
"We've had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that's on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he's going to make. It's on us to be professionals no matter what, and do our jobs. All of us — from the owner down to the equipment manager — so whenever he ready, he'll be ready."
Irving made his debut with the Nets on Wednesday night in Indianapolis, where he dropped 22 points with four assists while shooting 9-of-17 from the field in their 129-121 win over the Pacers.
Though the Nets initially said that they didn’t want Irving to be playing part-time, the team opted last month to finally bring him back amid a league-wide surge in coronavirus cases — which knocked out plenty of Nets players.
Nets coach Steve Nash said earlier on Friday that he was just “happy that we have him half the time.” The way the Nets are trending, though, it looks like a full-time Irving would make a big difference.
Brooklyn, which has lost four of its last five, is just 10-10 at home compared to 14-3 elsewhere.
"I don't know that our guys really even take a pause to think about if we're home or road,” Nash said, via ESPN. “I think it might get their juices going to get in the building on the road like, 'Oh yeah, we got Kyrie tonight.' But I don't think they're sitting at home going 'No fun at home without Kyrie,' 'Fun on the road with Kyrie.'"
As for why Irving still won’t get vaccinated, Durant said he doesn’t care.
Irving hasn’t given much of a clear explanation himself publicly, and Durant isn’t going to ask him privately.
"I haven't even asked for an explanation," Durant said, via ESPN. "It ain't my place I don't think. So I'm ready for whatever, that's been my whole mentality. Whatever happens in this situation, I got to still be me, still go out there and represent the way I represent. I'm supporting whatever my team needs me to do, wants to do.
"It's a weird situation, who knows? I don't understand most of this s***. COVID, all of this stuff has been crazy the last few years. So me, I just try to stay centered and focus on me. When Kyrie's ready to make decisions for himself he will, and I trust that."