You laughed at the absurdity of it, too, right?
Kyrie Irving. Back soon. Practicing. Playing in road games. Still not vaccinated. With COVID cases spiking all over the NBA and the world.
That’s really happening, apparently, after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported late Friday afternoon—forever the favorite window to dump bad/guaranteed-to-be-received-horrifically news—that the Nets are welcoming back their mercurial superstar, who refused to be vaccinated for unclear reasons before the start of the season and therefore hasn’t been able to play in home games due to a New York City mandate. Notably, Woj says Irving had no plans to become immunized—and we’re not talking the Aaron Rodgers definition of immunized here—anytime soon.
So much for the strong stance Brooklyn took back in October, one they were appropriately applauded for, when they told Irving to go home until he could be a full-time member of the team and not just be available for games away from Barclays Center. All because the guy who claimed he’s not an anti-vaxxer didn’t want to protect himself and others by getting jabbed like nearly the entire NBA, millions of New Yorkers, and billions of human beings.
Now Brooklyn, because the roster’s a little thin with injuries and Kevin Durant’s playing a ton of minutes, will crazily allow Irving to return to practice and seemingly suit up when his conditioning is only up to par for games not played in Barclays, Madison Square Garden, and Toronto (since the Canadian government has also instituted a vaccine mandate). Meanwhile, COVID numbers are spiking to levels not seen in months, if not the past year, around New York and the country, with 21,027 new cases recorded in New York state on Friday, The New York Times reported. NBA teams have been racking up positives left and right—16 players entered health and safety protocols Friday—making players, coaches, and personnel miss games and causing some fans to call for a brief pause to the season. Meanwhile, society as a whole grows increasingly anxious about the Omicron variant, the fourth major wave of a pandemic with no end in sight.
The Nets just shot a whopper of an airball deciding to welcome Irving back.
With teams, including the Nets, struggling to contain the spread of the virus, alongside New York City and other major municipalities, what sense does it make to bring in an unvaccinated player and drag him around the country on road trips? How is that good for the health and safety of everyone coming in contact with Irving and the rest of the Nets? And what happened to taking a stand and not having double standards, allowing one star to operate under a completely different set of rules, like the organization took back in October?
“At the end of the day, we’re looking to put a group of people that are going to be able to participate fully, and that’s what this comes down to,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said when the team announced they told Irving to stay home until he was vaccinated. “And we’re not looking for partners that are going to be half-time. I don’t think that would be fair, not only on the team, staff, ownership, and fans, but, to be quite frank, not fair on Kyrie, either. When you’re putting someone out there that potentially can’t get the right ramp-ups and build-ups and so forth, and look as good as he or the team should under a different set of circumstances, that’s ultimately why this decision was made.”
I guess the right set of circumstances was finally met to do a complete 180. And everybody in the organization was on board. Wojnarowski reported, “Nets owner Joe Tsai, general manager Sean Marks, coach Steve Nash, and key players were fully supportive of the idea.”
The NBA insider also added the three specific reasons the Nets are cool having Irving back in the mix—despite how ridiculous and hypocritical the decision looks—include “injuries, players lost to health and safety protocols, and an inordinate minutes load on their superstar players.”
Sure, the Nets have been going through some things this season, with a bunch of guys missing time recently related to the NBA’s COVID policies. They haven’t had a ton of luck with injuries, and they’re trying to protect arguably the MVP frontrunner in Kevin Durant, who’s playing significant minutes every contest. They also have more road games than home games remaining on their schedule, although three of those road games, against the Knicks (twice) and Raptors, Irving will have to miss
But when it’s time for Tsai, Marks, and Nash to defend this decision in front of the media, unless they’re brutally honest, I’m predicting their rationale will come off as lame. The Nets are bringing back Irving at one of the worst possible times imaginable—the optics are uglier than an awful Christmas sweater—and sadly rewarding him for his selfish behavior. From a basketball standpoint, we all clearly understand why Brooklyn’s doing this as it chases a title. Plus, the franchise has been paying half of Irvin’s salary. But two months ago, the Nets made it sound like principles actually mattered. Times certainly have changed. And not for the better.