Kyrie Irving didn’t want to talk about hypotheticals Wednesday night after reports broke that the city would be changing its private-sector mandate to allow for New York athletes and performers to be allowed to work regardless of their vaccination status. Now, it’s a reality and Irving will be able to return to the floor at Barclays Center as the Nets battle for playoff positioning in their final nine games of the year.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams made the announcement official during a Thursday press conference at Citi Field in Queens.
NYC Mayor Eric Adams has officially expanded the city's vaccine mandate exemption for athletes and performers.
Kyrie Irving can now play in home games.pic.twitter.com/ftMFIhGMd9
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) March 24, 2022
The decision puts an end to a season-long standoff that at first kept Irving out of a Nets uniform until January when he was allowed to rejoin the team on a part-time basis due to his unvaccinated status. Now the Nets will get one of their most important pieces back at the most critical time of the season.
The frustration of the Nets had started to surface in recent weeks publically, highlighted by Kevin Durant’s criticism of Mayor Adams on March 13 after Brooklyn defeated the New York Knicks at Barclays Center. Irving sat courtside, allowable following the lifting of the Key2NYC mandate.
Irving, Durant and Nets head coach Steve Nash did not want to address the situation on Wednesday night after they fell to the Memphis Grizzlies.
“I don’t think it’s official,” Durant said at the time. “Just been hearing rumors and stuff. Once it’s official we can speak on it.”
The team traveled on Thursday and did not have any media availability. A Nets spokesperson did not have any comment on Adams’ announcement when reached by amNewYork and The Brooklyn Game.
Only Nets owner Joe Tsai commented in a tweet while the press conference was going on. “Let’s work together to bring jobs and our New York economy back,” the Tweet from Tsai proclaimed.
🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼 Let’s work together to bring jobs and our New York economy back!
— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) March 24, 2022
The NBA and NBPA applauded Mayor Adams in a statement.
“We support the Mayor’s determination that the old rules treating hometown and visiting players differently no longer made sense, particularly because unvaccinated NBA players will continue to test daily,” the statement read.
Most of the questions during Thursday’s press conference in Queens focused on the political impact of Adams’ decision or about the Mets and Yankees, both of which had members of the organization on hand. Irving was only mentioned by name once when a reporter asked the Mayor what had changed so quickly in his stance on the mandate since he told the Nets superstar he needed to get vaccinated a week ago.
“I’m not quite sure if you heard me today,” Adams responded. “Kyrie, you should get vaccinated. Nothing has changed. You need to get vaccinated. I still feel, get vaccinated. That has not changed on my feeling on everyone should get vaccinated and boosted. That is where I am.”
Brooklyn can finally turn the page on a story that has followed them since the start of the season and focus on the court, where they’re in a precarious spot.
The Nets are still in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and would have to compete in the play-in round if the season ended today. They’re 2.5 games back of the seventh-place Toronto Raptors and 3.5 games back of the sixth-place Cleveland Cavaliers.
With single-digit games left on the schedule, it means every win is that much more important and the Nets only have a short amount of time to create chemistry between Irving and company before the playoffs. That won’t be an easy task, as the Nets were reminded on Wednesday night in their loss to the Grizzlies.
Irving has been dominant on the floor for Brooklyn in the 20 games he’s played this season. The Nets superstar has averaged 28.5 points per game and has shot nearly 50% from the field and over 40% from three.
Kyrie goes all the way with the finish
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) March 24, 2022
Some of his best performances have come in the last four games, where he put up 50 points against Charlotte, 60 points against Orlando and 43 points on Wednesday night.
“You know the answer to that question. You see how he plays,” Durant said in response when asked what having Irving on the floor every night would mean. “He just turns the whole team around when he’s out there. Hopefully, we get some good news.”
Whether Irving can maintain that type of production will be the question now, but with Irving and Durant on the floor together for the rest of the season the Nets are a team that just got a major boost.