Kyrie Irving faces more vaccination questions following deadline dealing of James Harden

Kyrie Irving
Kevin Durant (L) sits next to guard Kyrie Irving during the second half against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Amid the reports that Kyrie Irving’s unvaccinated status played a part in James Harden’s departure, the Nets superstar had to have expected that questions would eventually come up. They did following Saturday’s loss — the 11th straight for the Nets — as Brooklyn prepares for a stretch where Irving will be eligible for just one of their next eight games.

Irving’s vaccination status has been a constant source of controversy around the Nets and may have played into the breakup of Brooklyn’s “Big 3” just over a year after it was formed. The Nets guard was asked if he felt any guilt over not taking the shot, which prompted a passionate response from Irving.

“We’re back here. Play your media games with somebody else, bro, please understand that there’s a lot going on,” Irving said.  “I’m here as a human being just like you, bro, please respect my boundaries, man. That’s all I’m asking, bro. There’s no guilt that I feel. I’m the only player that has to deal with this in New York City because I played there.

“If I was anywhere else in another city, then there probably wouldn’t be the same circumstances. But because I’m there, we have (mayor) Eric Adams, we have the New York mandate, we have things going on that are real-life circumstances that are not just affecting me, bro.”

The Nets have publically backed Irving throughout his decision to remain unvaccinated, which prevents him from playing games at the Barclays Center or in Canada. It also prevents Irving from playing at Madison Square Garden when the Nets travel to Manhattan to face the Knicks.

“There’s obviously going to be rumors about (Irving’s vaccination status influencing Harden’s departure),” Durant said. “Kyrie has always been an easy scapegoat for everybody, especially for the media and the fans, they love to use him as a scapegoat for a lot of problems. So it’s easy to blame him, but I can’t speculate on how James is feeling. I know a lot of the media will put that on him.”

Brooklyn will play a majority of their next eight games at home with trips to Toronto and MSG sprinkled in there. The constant change of the lineup has caused the Nets issues, especially as Durrant has been sidelined by an MCL sprain.

Brooklyn has been without Joe Harris, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Claxton, and at times James Harden before he was traded on Thursday. And with Irving limited to just road games, it has created an issue with so many players forced to play bigger roles than they’re used to.

“You ask me these questions. I don’t feel guilt. I’m just living my life as best I can just like everybody else amidst these last few years,” Irving said. “I didn’t have a plan in place when all this was going on. I didn’t know. Like I said, the NBA and the NBPA made it very clear that there would be things that we would be able to do to work around this. And that’s off the table. So you tell me if I’m just alone out here, or do I have support from everybody else that still would same thing?”

It’s unclear what Irving was referring to when he mentioned to the league and players association about options that he believed would be made available to him so he could get around the vaccine mandate.

Nets general manager Sean Marks told reporters that he was remaining optimistic that guidelines would change and allow for Irving to play in Kings County.

“I just look around the world and I see things are changing, whether it’s the mask mandates, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and then you’ve got entire countries who are changing their outlook on Omicron and COVID and so forth. So again, far bigger discussion. My hope would be that by the time we roll around the playoffs, if not sooner, the world looks like a different place, and the more people that are vaccinated and so forth and we’re moving on,” Marks said on Friday.

The Nets general manager also said that Irving was the “most frustrated person in this whole thing.”

One that has bothered Irving has been the constant chatter about his vaccination status among pundits. He referenced a comment Charles Barkley made during Thursday’s TNT broadcast of the Nets game against the Washington Wizards.

Barkley called him “half-a-man, half-a-season” as the broadcast was cutting to a commercial break.

“I’m noticing that people like to make jokes about what’s going on, and half-game or half-man or whatever it is. My family has to see some of that stuff,” Irving said. “My teammates have to see some of that. And like I said, that outside noise creeps in at times, but it doesn’t impact me because I’m used to this. I don’t play these media games. I don’t do this. This is part of my job. But this is not what I signed up for in order to be going back and forth. Answering questions about my personal emotions, whatever it is.”