When the Brooklyn Nets take the floor on their home court this season, star point guard Kyrie Irving may not be in the starting lineup. He may not even be in the stadium.
Why? Because Irving refuses to declare his vaccination status, and the state of New York won’t let him in the stadium if he isn’t vaccinated. If Irving is unvaccinated, he would miss 44 of Brooklyn’s 82 regular-season games — and that is if he stays COVID-free.
But instead of protecting its players or workers’ rights, the NBA will withhold Irving’s pay for each game he misses, and administer additional consequences to him and all unvaccinated players. This is because the NBA is taking part in politics and throwing its players to the wolves. So when basketball season fails to entertain or just doesn’t happen, don’t blame the unvaccinated, blame the NBA.
With the season tipping off on Oct. 19, 90 percent of NBA athletes are vaccinated, but the 10 percent who aren’t are causing a stir. Bradley Beal, of the Washington Wizards, went viral for his comments on the vaccine as he remains unvaccinated.
“It is a personal decision between every individual, that’s it. Right?” Beal said. “And I have that personal right to keep it to myself or keep it with my family and I would like everybody to respect that.”
Beal’s “personal” decision has become a public one fairly quickly. Critics, coaches, and even fellow teammates are calling the decision of that 10 percent “selfish,” and patience from both groups is running thin. But those who prefer natural COVID immunity to a vaccine wouldn’t be under such scrutiny and basketball season could continue peacefully if the NBA hadn’t decided to create division.
There isn’t a vaccine mandate for the players, but that isn’t because the NBA didn’t want to implement one, it’s because the players association shot it down. So, unable to explicitly force everyone to get the vaccine, and refusing to protect their players’ rights, the NBA rolled out several “incentives” to pressure players.
The biggest problem with those who don’t want the shots comes when players’ home court is in New York or California, where a vaccine mandate will keep them from taking the court for home games and practicing with teammates. Unvaccinated players that miss games due to their vaccination status or COVID will not be paid for those games.
In Irving’s case, that would mean he misses out on roughly $400,000 for any game he is banned from playing, a big hit even as he is set to earn $34 million this season. The NBA is choosing to not protect the rights of Irving and others, and unleashing punishments for those same rights they refuse to protect.
Additionally, both unvaccinated and vaccinated players can bump against each other on the court, and touch the same ball, but they can’t sit in the same section on the bus or dine together at meals. They can’t sit together in the locker room and the vaccinated won’t have to be regularly tested or quarantine if someone close tests positive.
While religious exemptions are allowed, they don’t seem to be accepted as Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors was denied his request by the NBA. So in order to play, Wiggins had to go against his personal beliefs and get the vaccine. It’s a “choice” that appeared to not even be his, and a “choice” the NBA refused to protect.
These “incentives” aren’t incentives at all. They are consequences and punishments for making a personal and just decision. It is punishing the players who are choosing to exercise their rights. The NBA is playing politics and attempting to signal that to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, you must be accept the medical procedures they demand. And their policies clearly favor one group over the other.
Instead of urging players to get vaccinated and leaving it at that, players are essentially punished if they don’t, thus making them seem like the bad guys. Not to mention all those in close contact with players, coaches, officials, and front desk personnel, were required to get the vaccine to keep their jobs. This mandate creates a double standard and unclear expectations within the league, pushing a “civil war” among the players.
On the other hand, players have called those who are unvaccinated dangerous and voiced concerns they will cause breakout cases and put families at risk. But the “civil war” in the NBA also involves the coaches, owners, and even former players.
Nets Owner Joe Tsai had a message for Irving.
“What is our goal this year? What’s our purpose this year? It’s very, very clear: Win a championship. And the championship team needs to have everybody pulling the same direction,’ Tsai said. “So I hope to see Kyrie play fully and win a championship together with everybody else, with all his teammates. That’s the best outcome for everybody.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, called for the league to remove all those who won’t accept medical procedures he favors.
“There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
How can the NBA expect the season to be successful when nearly every part of the league is constantly attacking each other over a personal health decision?
Not to mention, dividing the team based on vaccination status puts team chemistry at risk, and refusing to assist players in states like California and New York leaves not only unhappy players, but an incomplete team. Most fans aren’t going to want to buy tickets to see basketball that is subpar. And most fans aren’t going to want to buy tickets to a game their favorite players can’t even play in.
The NBA is sabotaging itself by playing politics and choosing to follow the woke narrative that the vaccine is of utmost importance to normal life post-COVID. So when NBA season falls on its face, the NBA can’t blame the unvaccinated — it can blame itself.