Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says unvaccinated NBA players shouldn't be allowed to play

·3 min read
Former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, seen above in 2017, is speaking out against NBA players who are still unwilling to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press - image credit)
Former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, seen above in 2017, is speaking out against NBA players who are still unwilling to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press - image credit)

As the NBA prepares for its third straight pandemic-affected season, player vaccinations have quickly turned into a hot-button issue.

The conversation prompted basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to go public with his stance that every NBA player should be vaccinated.

"They don't have to explain anything, but if they don't want to get vaccinated, I don't think they should be allowed to play," Abdul-Jabbar told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday morning.

While recent reports say that 95 per cent of players have received at least one shot — that's more than the 85 per cent of eligible Canadians and nearly 65 per cent of Americans in the same boat — a vocal minority in basketball is making waves.

WATCH | Abdul-Jabbar says players should be vaccinated:

Canadian Andrew Wiggins was among the loudest when his application for an exemption to skip the COVID-19 vaccine was refused by the league.

Wiggins, a Golden State Warriors forward, originally said he planned to keep "fighting for what [he] believe[s]" when talking to reporters earlier this week. But on Sunday afternoon, the team said he had received a vaccine and will be eligible to play in all games. Head coach Steve Kerr making the announcement after practice.

Wiggins faced the possibility of not being allowed into Golden State's home building at Chase Center for games starting Oct. 13 when the San Francisco Department of Public Health begins requiring proof of vaccination for large indoor events.

Meanwhile, all-stars Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal also raised questions about the shots, revealing that they too were unvaccinated.

Abdul-Jabbar noted those players were likely vaccinated against other diseases like polio and mumps in grade school.

"It's just we have a different goal at this point and one that needs to be confronted with this new vaccine," he said on Rosemary Barton Live.

Example for Black community

Abdul-Jabbar said it's especially important for NBA players — of which about three-quarters are Black — to get vaccinated because they serve as role models.

"The Black community has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 situation, and they need the masks and the vaccinations to fight it in order to win," he said.

WATCH | Bring It In panel discusses NBA's vaccine problem:

Abdul-Jabbar, 74, spent 20 seasons in the NBA from 1969 to 1989 and owns the record for most career points. He won six NBA titles with the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks and was twice named Finals MVP.

In retirement, he became an author and activist focusing on Black history. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2016.

Abdul-Jabbar cited the Tuskegee Experiment as part of the reason some in the Black community may be hesitant to take a government-approved vaccine. Between 1932 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told hundreds of Black men with syphilis in Alabama they were getting free public health care.

In fact, the subjects were not informed they had syphilis and did not receive any real treatment. By the time the experiment ended, 128 patients had died of syphilis or complications.

"Blacks were denied treatment and allowed to fester on with disease," Abdul-Jabbar said.

"In this situation, Black people need the treatment … because it's what's going to effectively fight the COVID-19 situation."

The NBA reportedly pushed for vaccinations to be mandatory for the coming season but was rebuffed by the players' union.

Instead, the league and union agreed on strict protocols for unvaccinated players which include daily testing, isolation from teammates and travel restrictions on the road.

Most team staffers and all referees must be vaccinated.

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