Being in the spotlight is nothing new for Brooklyn Nets point guard and basketball sensation Kyrie Irving. Ever since he entered the league as the first pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, the star has been under constant attention for his unique style of play, consisting of his signature spin move, and acrobatic finishes at the basket. As of lately however, he’s been in the spotlight for an entirely different reason, one that has nothing to do with his performance on the court.
As anticipation for the upcoming NBA season begins to set in, all players have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Irving however, has made the decision to refuse the vaccine. Speculations as to why have arisen, causing an eruption of questions and uncertain thoughts from fans. Due to COVID-19 mandates around the nation, followers of the league are aware that without a vaccination, Irving won’t be playing in this season’s games. Although this news would be upsetting with Irving playing for any team, fans see this upcoming season as an especially sensitive time for something like this to occur. This is due to the expectations surrounding the performance of the Brooklyn Nets “superteam” roster. Ever since Irving and his All-Star teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden were signed, Nets fans have been expecting a championship from the team. This expectation was not met last year, when the team reached an unfortunate end due to several injured players. The organization hoped to make up for it this time around, but with Irving being such a vital part of the team’s offensive strategy, a lack of his presence on the court puts everything into question.
Irving’s reasoning for his refusal of the vaccine has been vague. In recent interviews, he has brought up the unemployment of people across the nation due to vaccine mandates. He said that, “no one should be forced to do anything with their bodies.” It’s clear that Irving isn’t in favor of putting a mandate on the vaccine. When directly asked about the future state of his vaccination status, Irving said that he “would love to keep those things private.”
Despite his teammates publicly supporting his decision, fans across the nation are enraged. They claim that Irving’s decision is selfish and will have an impact on the team, organization, and city. NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has even commented on the situation, saying that, “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff, and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research.” Others have created rumors that Irving is going to retire or is simply being stubborn, which were disputed by Irving in a recent Instagram live. He told the fans watching that he has no plans to “give up this game for a vaccine mandate or staying unvaccinated.”
Most people put in Irving’s situation wouldn’t have to think twice about making the decision to get vaccinated in order to chase an NBA title, and get paid 40 million dollars to do so. However, Irving has a different perception of his options. He’s had a history of being an especially polarizing figure in the athletic world, never having been hesitant to speak his mind. Irving’s ability to express his concerns have been displayed many times throughout his career. For example, in June 2020, while the Black Lives Matter protests were sweeping the country, the NBA announced their plan to restart the season. Irving, recovering from a shoulder injury, stood against the decision and instead encouraged others to focus on social reform. During the NBA player’s call, Irving said, “I’m willing to give up everything I have [for social reform],” expressing a willingness to stand for the things he believes in.
Although it is apparent that Irving places great importance on his personal beliefs, the immediate future of his career is vague. Two paths emerge; he can stick to his values and abandon a potential NBA championship title, or follow the mandate and get vaccinated. His decision is still unclear.