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Vaccinated or not, Kyrie Irving is a distraction for Nets

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Nets speaks to

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Nets speaks to his teammates during Game 2 of the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.  Credit: Steven Ryan

Here is what we definitively know about Kyrie Irving, the Nets and his vaccination status:

All people in New York City are required to show proof that they are vaccinated to enter a number of indoor venues, including entering professional sports arenas. Irving was the only Nets player not to physically join his team for media day at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Monday. Instead, Irving spoke to the media via Zoom from a book-lined room in what was presumably his home.

Is Irving vaccinated? Is he not vaccinated? Neither he, the Nets nor the NBA are saying on the record, but you can draw your own conclusions.

"I appreciate your question, but honestly, I like to keep that stuff private," Irving said when asked Monday about his vaccination status. "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 just would love to just keep that private and handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with a plan."

Plan? What plan?

The one thing that does seem evident is, vaccinated or not, Irving is a distraction.

The Nets are not the Knicks. They are not a rebuilding team that is hoping to go to the second round of the playoffs this season. The Nets are looking to win it all, to avenge their painful loss to the Bucks, the team that beat them in the second round and then went on to win an NBA title that very well could have gone to the Nets.

This Nets team has absolutely everything going for it. The Big 3 — Kevin Durant, James Harden and Irving — are healthy, the team has made some key additions and, unlike last year, they are all starting the season together.

This is a situation where the Nets need to be all-in to accomplish what they want to accomplish. The question is will they be?

The most recent report has 90% of NBA players vaccinated. The league has not mandated that its players get the vaccine. But because of local coronavirus regulations in New York and San Francisco, the Knicks, Nets and Warriors are required to be vaccinated to play in their home arenas unless exemptions for medical or religious reasons apply.

Irving can attend training camp, because the team is holding it in San Diego, which does not have the same vaccination rules that New York has. The question is what will happen when they return to New York. Both Barclays Center and the team’s practice center are in Brooklyn, meaning that an unvaccinated player could not play or practice with the team.

"Obviously, Ky is a huge part of what we're trying to do," Harden said Monday.

"We trust in Kyrie, and I expect us to have our whole team at some point," Durant said Monday.

At some point?

Irving has had plenty of detractors over the years, but I have not been one of them. Yes, he marches to a different drummer, but I have found him to be thoughtful, philanthropic and socially aware. He has done a great deal of good over the course of his career by bringing attention to issues like mental health and social justice.

If vaccination is a subject that he feels passionate about, it would have been interesting to hear his reasoning. He has never been shy about sharing his opinions before, which is why this appears to be such a shocker. If teachers and healthcare workers can speak up about their reluctance to get the vaccine, a public figure like Irving ought to be able to, too.

"This is the last thing I wanted to create was more distractions, more hoopla, more drama around this," Irving said.

That may be so, but for now that appears to be the case.

New York Sports