Fresh off their first win in nearly a month, the new-look Brooklyn Nets will be back in action on Wednesday night against the New York Knicks. They will once again be without their three stars, however, as Kevin Durant is out with a knee injury, newly acquired Ben Simmons is still working his way back to full fitness and Kyrie Irving is sidelined by the city’s vaccine mandate.
Though the mandate mostly keeps Irving out of home games at Barclays Center, he also cannot play in “road” games at Madison Square Garden. It was perhaps fitting that NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the issue in an interview with ESPN’s “Get Up” on Wednesday morning.
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“This law in New York, the oddity of it to me is that it only applies to home players,” Silver said. “I think if ultimately that rule is about protecting people who are in the arena, it just doesn’t quite make sense to me that an away player who is unvaccinated can play in Barclays but the home player can’t. To me, that’s a reason they should take a look at that ordinance.
“So while, again, my personal view is people should get vaccinated and boosted, I can imagine a scenario where Brooklyn, as part of New York City, with a new mayor now who wasn’t in place, Eric Adams, when that original ordinance was put into place, I could see him deciding to change along the way and say it’s no longer necessary to have a mandatory vaccination requirement, as I said, particularly one that only affects home players.”
The NBA itself does not have a vaccine mandate, and instead follows local guidelines. As such, players from visiting teams who are unvaccinated are allowed to play against the Nets and Knicks in New York City. Likewise, Irving is able to play in most of the Nets’ road games. It’s all a bit confusing, especially if the idea is to keep people safe.
New York City mayor Eric Adams was asked about the situation on Wednesday and admitted that he’s “struggling” about what to do because he thinks it’s “unfair” for hometown teams to have different rules than visiting teams. In general, however, Adams has been a staunch supporter of mask and vaccine mandates.
“I want to err on the side of caution,” Adams said in a press conference on Feb. 10. “My healthcare professionals have not said this is the moment yet.” Adams also fired 1,430 city workers on Feb. 14 for failing to comply with the vaccine mandate. Those are not the words or actions of someone who is planning to lift restrictions in the near future.
Still, the Nets and Irving remain hopeful that things will change by the time the playoffs roll around in April. Following the trade deadline, Nets GM Sean Marks said the team is “always going to be optimistic.” Irving, meanwhile, said he feels “no guilt” about remaining unvaccinated.
“Who knows?” Irving said in early February. “Who knows? I know it’s not a laughing subject to be talking about, but who knows what could happen? I’m keeping a positive mindset that anything can happen in the next few days or the next week. Just crossing my fingers that something can come up before All-Star break or after. So I’m definitely keeping a positive attitude in that sense.”
As things stand, Irving is eligible to play in just eight of the Nets’ 25 remaining games, and will not suit up again until after the All-Star break on Feb. 26 against the Milwaukee Bucks.