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Kyrie Irving cleared to rejoin Nets at home after New York relaxes COVID vaccine mandate

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The Brooklyn Nets will get Kyrie Irving back full time after all.

New York City relaxed its COVID-19 vaccine mandate Thursday, allowing exemptions for athletes and entertainers.

This change will allow Irving to play in home games for the Nets at the Barclays Center, and allows unvaccinated New York Mets and Yankees players to play in home games this season.

The NBA and NBPA released a joint statement Thursday thanking New York Mayor Eric Adams for making the decision.

The league and its players pointed out 97 percent of players have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Nets are on the road in Memphis on Wednesday and then in Miami on Saturday. Irving will likely then make his home debut on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets.

"We're going to do it in the right way," New York Mayor Eric Adams said about relaxing coronavirus rules on Tuesday, via ESPN. "We're going to follow the science ... we're going to make the right decision. And in New York, no matter what you do, this is 8.8 million people and 30 million opinions, so you're never going to satisfy New Yorkers, so you must go with the logic, your heart and the science."

Irving has been one of the strongest opponents to receiving a coronavirus vaccine in the league, but he hasn’t given a very clear reason for that stance.

Under the old rules, Irving wasn’t allowed to play for the Nets at the Barclays Center. He was allowed to play in road games, however, and unvaccinated players for other teams can play in New York City. Irving has been spotted at the Barclays Center watching the Nets multiple times, and the Nets were fined $50,000 after Irving joined the team in the locker room after a game earlier this month.

Though Adams faced criticism for the ruling that has kept Irving from playing in home games, he previously had a simple response to it.

“Listen, you’re right,” Adams responded to a heckler earlier this month. “Kyrie can play tomorrow. Get vaccinated.”

Irving declined to answer questions about the reports on Wednesday night, but smirked at the end when asked about how his return would help the Nets.

Irving has averaged 27.7 points and 5.3 assists in 19 games so far this season. The Nets entered Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies in eighth in the Eastern Conference, which will likely result in them playing in the play-in tournament — which is set to start on April 12.

Though there are just a handful of games left on their regular season schedule, Irving’s return should work out great for their potential postseason run.

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets
Kyrie Irving will likely make his home debut with the Nets on Sunday. (Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Yankees, Mets players cleared to play

Thursday’s rule change will clear a path for unvaccinated Yankees and Mets players to play at home for their respective openers next month.

Both unvaccinated Yankees and Mets players were subject to the same rule that Irving was, which would stop them from playing at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

Yankees star Aaron Judge has repeatedly refused to answer questions about his vaccine status. It’s unclear how many players on the Yankees or Mets are unvaccinated, though the Mets were one of six teams that didn’t hit the 85% vaccination threshold last season. Baseball is the lowest vaccinated among the four major male sports in the country, too.

Now, though, players will be exempt. The Yankees will open their season at home on April 7, and then the Mets’ home opener is scheduled for April 15.

Though they won’t be missing home games, unvaccinated players still won’t be able to play against the Blue Jays in Toronto — as Canada still requires that all visitors are fully vaccinated. Should the Nets run into the Raptors in the playoffs, Irving won’t be able to play at Scotiabank Arena, either.