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Kyrie Irving took to Instagram Live on Wednesday night, speaking publicly on his situation for the first time since the Nets announced he would not be allowed to play or practice with the team unless he gets vaccinated for COVID-19.
In a 20-minute session, Irving explained his stance against New York City mandating that all Knicks and Nets players must be vaccinated to play home games at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center.
Irving also said that he has no plans to retire due the vaccine mandate.
“Don’t believe that I’m retiring. Don’t believe that I’m gonna give up this game for a vaccine mandate or staying unvaccinated,” he said.
New York City’s mandate is an executive order from Mayor Bill De Blasio. The next New York City mayor will have an opportunity to uphold, change or reverse the mandate when he or she takes office on Jan. 1, 2022.
On his Instagram Live, Irving suggested that he expected to get an exemption from the mandate prior to the season.
“What would you do if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you would have exemptions or that you didn’t have to be forced to get the vaccine?” Irving said. “This wasn’t an issue before the season started. This wasn’t something that I saw coming where I prepared for it and I had a chance to strategize on what would be best for me and my family. I came into the season thinking that I would just be able to play ball, be able to use my talent to continue to inspire, influence people in the right way.”
Irving is permitted to practice at the Nets’ facility in Brooklyn and play in road games (except for games at Madison Square Garden). But he cannot play in home games at the Barclays Center.
The Nets decided on Tuesday that they didn’t want Irving to be a part-time player.
It is unclear if Irving formally requested an exemption to the local mandate.
Irving said on Wednesday that he respects everyone’s choice on whether or not to get vaccinated, but he doesn’t believe anyone should be forced to risk their livelihood because of a vaccine mandate.
“We just came out of one of the craziest pandemics of all time, and you’re telling me to think rationally. How many people are really thinking rationally? I’m not the focus here,” Irving said. “I got on here to really show that I’m real enough to stand up when I feel like I’m being put in an f-ed up position. … I haven’t hurt anybody. I haven’t committed a crime. I’m not out here acting dumb, stupid. I’m out here taking care of my family, my kids. I’m out here putting on for the youngins. I’m out here trying to create a legacy that lasts a lifetime, like multiple lifetimes. …
“I’m just thinking for all those who are dealing with similar things that I’m dealing with. You’ve got to put your livelihood on the line for a mandate that you don’t necessarily agree with all the way. Like, no one should be forced to do anything with their bodies. No one should be forced to do anything with their bodies. Like, you only get one of these. If you choose to get the vaccine, I support you. If you choose to be unvaccinated, I support you. Do what’s best for you.”
Irving will be docked roughly $380,000 for each home game that he misses. His absence also compromises the Nets’ pursuit of a title.
“It’s not always about the money, it’s about choosing what’s best for you,” Irving said. “You think I really want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship?”
The All-Star point guard made a point to say this has nothing to do with the Nets’ decision to not have him practice or play in road games, but that he’s standing his ground on what he believes in.
“I’m always going to stay true to me, and that’s me. This is my life. I get to do whatever I want with this,” Irving said. “This is one body that I get here, one God body that I get here, and you’re telling me what to do with my body. And it has nothing to do with the organization. I’m gonna put that out there. It has nothing to do with the Nets, it has nothing to do with my teammates. This has everything to do with what’s going on in our world, and I’m being grouped into something that’s bigger than just the game of basketball.
“I’m a human being. I have emotions, I have feelings, I have thoughts, things that I keep to myself, things that I share, but I’m staying grounded in what I believe in. It’s just as simple as that. It’s not about being anti-vax or about being on one side or the other, it’s just really about being true to what feels good for me. I’m still uncertain about a lot of things, and that’s okay. If I’m going to be demonized for having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, then that’s just what it is. That’s something I’ve got to sit in. I know the consequences of the decisions I make with my life. I’m not here to sugarcoat any of that.”
In closing Irving reaffirmed that he is not retiring, and that he hopes things can eventually get sorted out so he can get back on the floor with his teammates.
“Do what’s best for you, but I am not an advocate for either side. I am doing what’s best for me,” Irving said. “I know the consequences here, and if it means that I’m judged and demonized for that, that’s just what it is, that’s the role I play.
“I love this game, but sometimes you’ve really got to make choices that ultimately affect that. And it’s unfortunate, but that’s where we’re in 2021. … No, I’m not retiring, and no, I’m not going and leaving this game like this. There’s still so much more work to do.”