Brooklyn Nets superstar guard Kyrie Irving was not present for his team's media day activities on Monday due to New York City's COVID-19 health and safety regulations. The city requires "proof of at least one dose of vaccination for all workers and individuals in indoor entertainment and performing arts venues."
Rolling Stone dropped a bombshell report over the weekend about an anti-vaccination contingent in the NBA's players' union. Irving's aunt, Tyki, all but confirmed to the publication her nephew is not vaccinated.
"He is going to try to figure that out as it comes, because it’s not religious-based, it’s moral-based," she told Rolling Stone, before sharing misinformation regarding the vaccine's effectiveness. "You may have to sit on the sideline, you might not have to be in the arena during this. If it’s that freaking important to get a vaccine that, hell, it’s still not preventing the COVID, then I’d rather them working it out that way than to say, ‘Hey, if you don’t get the vaccine, then you can’t be a part of the franchise that you f***in' helped build.'"
Irving refused to answer questions about his vaccination status during a Zoom call with reporters.
"Honestly, I like to keep that stuff private," he said. "I'm a human being first, and obviously living in this public sphere, there's just a lot of questions about what's going on in the world of Kyrie, and I would love to just keep that private and handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with a plan."
Irving also would not answer questions about why he does not want to clarify public reports about his availability to the team or whether he will be able to play home games, given the regulations in Brooklyn.
"Everything will be released at a due date once we get this cleared up," he said, "but as of right now, just please respect my privacy regarding anything around home games, what's happening with vaccination."
Nets general manager Sean Marks told reporters last week that "a couple people" on the team would not meet New York City's vaccination requirements for indoor venues. "I won’t get into who it is," he said, "but we feel confident in the following several days before camp everybody would be allowed to participate."
Irving was the only Nets player under guaranteed contract not present for media access on Monday.
Irving's absence could be interpreted as confirmation of his vaccination status, although he did not rule out his presence at home games at some point this season.
"Obviously, I'm not able to be present there today," he said, "but that doesn't mean I'm putting any limits on the future for me being able to join the team."
Irving has averaged 27 points (on 50/40/92 shooting splits), 6.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game over 74 appearances since signing a four-year, $136.5 million contract with the Nets in July 2019. He will be forced to sit home games until he provides proof of vaccination or the city's regulations change.
The Nets are favorites to win the 2022 NBA championship, according to BetMGM, but Irving's availability could have serious ramifications for their playoff seeding and contention status, should he remain sidelined.
Asked about Irving's availability, co-star Kevin Durant said, "I expect it not to be [an issue]. That's on Kyrie, and that's his personal decision. ... We trust in Kyrie. I expect us to have our whole team at some point."
Likewise, Brooklyn's third superstar teammate, James Harden, sidestepped a similar question, preferring to let Irving speak for himself during a Zoom conference call scheduled for later on Monday. "Obviously, Kai is a huge part of what we want to do, so ...," Harden said, stopping short of finishing his thought on the issue.
During that availability, Irving was asked once more if he was looking forward to playing in Brooklyn.
"I'm excited to just enjoy this day by day and the journey," he said. "However this comes — the ups, the downs, the good, the bad — I know that I'll be there every day no matter what and just be present for my teammates as one of the leaders on the team. ... The focus has to be at an all-time high, no distractions, and this is the last thing I wanted to create was more distractions and more hoopla and more drama."
The Nets are scheduled to begin training camp on Tuesday in San Diego, where Irving can join his teammates. They open their preseason schedule in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Oct. 3 and are not slated to host an exhibition game in Brooklyn until Oct. 8. California requires unvaccinated workers to wear double-layered face masks indoors and to test negative for indoor events with more than 5,000 attendees.
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