NEW YORK—Kyrie Irving said Wednesday he didn’t want to lose salary or a chance to compete for a championship with the Brooklyn Nets, but was doing “what’s best for me” by refusing to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
The Nets decided Tuesday that Irving wouldn’t be with the team because he isn’t eligible to play in home games, where a New York mandate requires professional athletes on one of the city’s teams to be vaccinated to practice or play in public venues.
Speaking on Instagram Live, Irving said he loved basketball and wasn’t going to retire.
“I am doing what’s best for me. I know the consequences here and if it means that I’m judged and demonized for that, that’s just what it is,” Irving said. “That’s the role I play, but I never wanted to give up my passion, my love, my dream just over this mandate.”
Irving would have been able to practice with the Nets and play in road games outside New York. The Nets will pay him for those but he is giving up about half of his $35-million salary by missing the home games.
“So what? It’s not about the money,” Irving said. “It’s not always about the money. It’s about choosing what’s best for you. You think I really want to lose money?”
Irving said he supported people who were and weren’t vaccinated and expressed appreciation for doctors. The All-Star guard didn’t give any indication that he was against being vaccinated, just that he was deciding not to.
“Once again, I’m going to repeat this. This is not about the Nets, this is not about the organization, it’s not about the NBA [National Basketball Association], it’s not politics,” Irving said. “It’s not any one thing.
“It’s just about the freedom of what I want to do.”
Irving hasn’t spoken to reporters since the Nets’ media day on September 27, when he appeared via Zoom and asked for privacy when questioned about his vaccination status.
The Nets are championship contenders and Irving said he didn’t want to miss the opportunity he has with them. General Manager Sean Marks said the team would gladly welcome Irving back under the right circumstances, and Irving made clear he was going to play again.
“No, I’m not retiring and no I’m not going and leaving this game like this,” Irving said. “There’s still so much more work to do and there still so many other [youngsters] to inspire, because I know they want to be better than me.”
SIMMONS DRAMA DRAGS ON
THIS much is known: Ben Simmons is back in Philadelphia. But there’s no clear sign yet the All-Star guard is set to rescind his trade request and actually play for the 76ers.
Even Coach Doc Rivers—publicly, at least—says he’s unsure of the status of the trade demand, the latest wrinkle in the on-again-off-again relationship between Simmons and the Sixers.
“I don’t know. He’s voiced that, but we’ll see how that works out,” Rivers said Wednesday at team practice.
A rescinded request seems improbable, though Rivers said Simmons “was great, he was good” when the two met on Tuesday, a day after the three-time All-Star surprised the franchise by showing up to its arena during a preseason game to take a Covid-19 test.
Rivers said Simmons was scheduled to return to the practice facility late Wednesday for an individual workout and will not practice with the team until he clears NBA health and safety protocols.
That is, if Simmons returns to play at all.
That’s still a big if for the Sixers, especially with one more preseason game Friday at Detroit before next week’s season opener at New Orleans. Much like Marshawn Lynch at a Super Bowl media day, Simmons may be here only so he won’t get fined. The 25-year-old from Australia has four years and $147 million left on his max contract—though the 76ers placed in escrow $8.25 million due to the guard, and fines for missing games and practices could be subtracted from that amount.
Rivers, who turned 60 on Wednesday, said he wanted Simmons to play.
“I’m assuming he’s going to play, but who knows? I can’t get in anyone’s head,” Rivers said.
Rivers said he hasn’t ruled out Simmons traveling with the team to Detroit.
“Whether we play him or not, that’s going to depend on what we see this week,” Rivers said. “He’s coming from behind, because he hasn’t been in camp, obviously. Having said that, do you rush him and put him on the floor? That’s a whole other subject. What we see this week is how we determine everything going forward.”
Simmons missed training camp and the preseason so far in the wake of his offseason trade demand that rankled some teammates, raised the wrath of fans and left many puzzled why he wants off last season’s No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Sixers President Daryl Morey and Rivers have been publicly optimistic since the start of training camp that Simmons would play again for the Sixers.
Simmons, the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft, had been paired with Joel Embiid as the franchise cornerstones as the Sixers chase their first NBA championship since 1983. He averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists over four seasons with the Sixers, who drafted him out of LSU, where he played only one season.
The Sixers downplayed potential issues in the locker room, should Simmons return. Starters Seth Curry and Danny Green both said Wednesday they had not talked to Simmons this week but would welcome him back.
“We want him back. We want him with us,” Green said. “When he’s in the building, we’ll acclimate him appropriately. We just want everybody to come here, show up and do their part, do their jobs.”
Added Curry: “I’ll be able to see when he steps on the floor where his head’s at. I don’t feel like he needs to explain anything to me.”
Talk to Sixers fans; they can’t wait for answers.
Image courtesy of AP