Now full-time, Kyrie Irving says he's in it for long haul
MIAMI — Kyrie Irving will be back on the court at Barclays Center on Sunday, and he doesn’t intend on leaving it anytime soon.
Speaking publicly for the first time since New York City Mayor Eric Adams cleared the way for him to play by modifying the city’s private sector vaccine mandate, Irving said he is so excited to be playing full-time that he has been “pinching myself” since the news broke. He then told reporters at the team’s shootaround before Saturday’s game against the Heat that he is looking to be in Brooklyn for the “long run.”
“I think for me, it has always been about being comfortable, loving where I’m at, and I love it here,” Irving said. “Once that summertime hits, I know we’ll have some conversations. But there’s no way I can leave my man Seven anywhere.”
"My man Seven,'' of course, is Kevin Durant, who signed a four-year, $198 million extension in August. Irving and Durant came to the Nets together in July 2019. Irving is in the final guaranteed season of a four-year, $136 million contract.
It’s not just for Durant that Irving has loyalty. Since bringing him back to the team in January as a road-only player, the Nets have jumped through hoops to accommodate Irving and his unvaccinated status.
Saturday night’s game in Miami was only the 21st that Irving has played this season, causing the Nets to juggle their lineups on a regular basis, depending on where they are playing. They also paid a lobbyist to reach out to the mayor on Irving’s behalf and had their practice facility reclassified as a private gym so he was allowed to practice there.
Of course, in the fall of 2018, Irving declared that he was going to stay in Boston but ended up leaving for the Nets a year later. This situation, however, is different, given that Irving and Durant picked the Nets as a destination together.
“I signed up for this for the long run,” Irving said. “So I love this year. I’m grateful. It hasn’t been a prototypical year. But when I look at my teammates and where we are as an organization, I’m looking for the long run and what we can do for legacy talk.”
After Saturday’s game, the Nets have only eight more to play. They are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Irving said. “We’re in eighth place and we’re still expected to be contenders. And if that’s not a true testament to the level of the talent on this team, I don’t know what is . . . We’re just going to put our best foot forward and live with the results.”
Irving also knows that not everyone out there is thrilled that the mayor made an exception for athletes and entertainers while more than 1,400 city workers were fired for refusing to get the vaccine and an unknown number of workers in the private sector lost their jobs.
Irving said there is some unspecified “progressive action” that he can take to help workers who lose their jobs.
“I think there are a lot of people dealing with real consequences from being unvaccinated,” Irving said. “And I don't think it's talked about enough in terms of our essential workers and people on the front lines, and it's just it's a whole community of us that really want to stand together . . . You know, now is the time to really get all of us included and get everybody back to work so we get some normalcy around here.”