As Nets return home, focus returns to Kyrie Irving and NYC vaccine mandate

Kyrie Irving
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) is interviewed after scoring a career high 60 points after the game against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving’s historic night in Orlando was just another testament to what he can do on the court, but Brooklyn fans won’t get the chance to see that in Brooklyn while the Nets go through a three-game homestand. That means Irving will be back on the sidelines watching from the stands instead of on the court.

That’s not exactly where the Nets want to see one of their best players during an all-important run to the playoffs.

Irving remains caught in the middle of an issue that goes well beyond basketball, but has thrust one of the league’s stars into a bigger conversation. Irving remains one of the NBA’s only players to not be vaccinated against COVID-19 and that has cost him more than half the season and now makes him one of the most well-known people impacted by the private sector mandate requiring employees of New York City businesses to be vaccinated.

Irving was allowed to be a spectator on Sunday for the first time when the Nets hosted the New York Knicks after Mayor Eric Adams lifted the Key2NYC mandate earlier this month. It was a moment of mixed emotions for Irving on Sunday.

“It’s not the best feeling in the world. It’s a little awkwardness,” Irving said. “But showing up there with my family and getting a warm embrace from New York, Brooklyn, just everybody that’s there to support the Nets and support our organization, support me. And just support what’s going on out here and want to see a change.”

Kyrie Irving Nets
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) celebrates after the Nets take the lead against the New York Knicks in the fourth quarter at Barclays Center. Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It was a surreal scene as Irving walked to his seat in the second quarter. He even walked into the locker room at halftime, which earned the organization a fine of $50,000 for violation league and city mandates.

Irving and head coach Steve Nash both expressed surprise over the fine handed out by the league.

“I didn’t know,” Nash told Newsday. “It never crossed my mind. I was unprepared for that event.”

Irving is likely to be in the building again now that the Nets are back in Brooklyn and the focus will shift to his vaccination status once again, as if that ever really has changed. The Nets superstar joked that he would wear a media pass to their next game and “start asking questions.”

Irving has continued to express optimism that the mandates would change in the future and he would geet to play at Barclays Center. City Hall has faced increased scrutiny over the impact it has had on Irving, and they could face even more with the potential impact on the New York Yankees and New York Mets.

“My faith in things turning around hasn’t changed. It hasn’t wavered,” Irving said. “I wouldn’t be able to sit up here and talk about it with you guys comfortably unless I had a big supporting group behind me. They’ve been selfless this whole time. Who would’ve thought at the beginning of the season that we’d be dealing with the same questions over and over again every day?

“I know it was tiresome for my teammates and I know it was for some people in the organization. I just commend all of us for just really making a choice to come together and just deal with this.”

The Nets front office and players have very publically stood behind Irving since he returned in January. Irving is the only player that is unvaccinated and his stance on vaccines does appear to differ from others in the locker room.

That has led to discussions between Irving and Nets superstar Kevin Durant about the vaccine and their personal beliefs in regard to it.

“Me and Kyrie had conversations about the vaccine, and what it meant to him and what it meant to me,” Durant said. “At the end of the day, I didn’t think it was my decision on what he wanted to do with the vaccine. I gave him what I felt about it and we talked about it, but that’s ultimately his decision. I was never going to force anybody to do something with their bodies that they didn’t want to do. We passed all that right now. It’s just not making sense. I didn’t say anything about five-six months ago about how I was feeling but at this point, I felt like I just wanted to speak up.”