Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving says his decision not to vaccinate himself against COVID-19 cost him a four-year extension worth more than $155 million.
Speaking on the Nets’ media day alongside fellow star Kevin Durant, Irving said there was a lot of uncertainty stemming from his decision not to get jabbed.
Irving was forced to miss home games in Brooklyn until late March because of a New York City vaccination mandate, and opted into the final year of his contract, a player option worth $56 million, prior to the season.
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He said the decision to get vaccinated was like “an ultimatum” from the team when it came to securing his extension.
“I gave up four years, 100-and-something million deciding to be unvaccinated and that was the decision,” Irving said. “[Get this] contract, get vaccinated or be unvaccinated and there’s a level of uncertainty of your future, whether you’re going to be in this league, whether you’re going to be on this team, so I had to deal with that real-life circumstance of losing my job for this decision.
“We were supposed to have all that figured out before training camp last year,” Irving added. “And it just didn’t happen because of the status of me being vaccinated, unvaccinated. So, I understood their point and I just had to live with it. It was a tough pill to swallow, honestly.”
Irving said while he understood the club’s stance, he was unhappy how his decision not to get vaccinated “came to be a stigma within my career.”
“I understood all the Nets’ points,” Irving said. “And I respected it and I honoured it, and I didn’t appreciate how me being vaccinated, all of a sudden, came to be a stigma within my career that I don’t want to play, or I’m willing to give up everything to be a voice for the voiceless,” Irving said.
“And which I will stand on here and say that, that wasn’t the only intent that I had, was to be the voice of the voiceless, it was to stand on something that was going to be bigger than myself.
“And I was going to understand probably far into the future … there was a level of uncertainty of what this was going to look like of me coming back. And I had questions, they were answered truthfully. And that’s all I needed. And now it’s just having the support around me and giving the support to my teammates.”
In response to Irving’s claims, Nets GM Sean Marks pushed back on the notion that Irving was given an “ultimatum” regarding his contract.
“There’s no ultimatum being given here,” Marks said. “Again, it goes back to you want people who are reliable, people who are here, and accountable. All of us: staff, players, coaches, you name it. It’s not giving somebody an ultimatum to get a vaccine. That’s a completely personal choice. I stand by Kyrie. I think if he wants, he’s made that choice. That’s his prerogative completely.
“Two summers ago, that was pre-citywide, state-wide mandates that went in,” Marks added. “So once the vaccine mandates came in, and we knew how that would affect [Irving] playing home games and so forth, that’s when contract talks stalled. So it didn’t get to [a point], ‘Here’s the deal, now take it back.’ That never happened.”
The final days of a disappointing Brooklyn Nets season ended not with Ben Simmons on the floor with his teammates, but on the floor of his home, the pain from a back injury shooting through his lower body.
The Nets would go on to get swept by the Boston Celtics, with Simmons having back surgery shortly thereafter. While Simmons was rehabbing in the summer, Kevin Durant requested a trade — unless coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks were fired.
Nash wasn’t sacked, nor was he even shaken.
“Knowing Kevin as long as I have, it didn’t really bother me the way maybe everyone would think,” Nash said. “That’s a part of being a competitor, that I wasn’t like overly surprised and I wasn’t even overly concerned. It was just something that I thought we would address in time and we did, and here we are and we’re looking forward.”
The Nets opened training camp with Simmons finally on the floor with his teammates, wearing a new number. But the book wasn’t closed on 2021-22 just yet, not with Nash first having to revisit the tumultuous summer.
He and Durant have had a lengthy relationship: Nash was a consultant with Golden State during Durant’s stint with the team. When the Hall of Fame point guard was hired as Nets coach in 2020, despite no experience, it was assumed that the superstar player had weighed in.
So it was shocking when reports surfaced that Durant wanted him out, except to Nash.
“You know, I never thought that was 100 per cent. There’s a lot of things that it’s not black and white like that,” Nash said. “So there’s a lot of factors, a lot of things behind the scenes, a lot of things that are reported are not accurate. A lot of things that are reported are not 100 per cent accurate, so you get fragmented bits of truth, things that are flat-out not true.”
Nash said he knew he would talk to Durant at some point, and they did meet in August, along with Marks and owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, where they decided to continue together. Nash wouldn’t specify what was said to get Durant back on board.
“But it was an opportunity for us to clear the air and just communicate and it was pretty straightforward,” Nash said. “Didn’t take a lot of time and got to the bottom of it and decided to move forward.”
Durant pointed to how poorly the Nets played while he was sidelined by a knee injury in January and February as one of the reasons for his frustration, saying the team wasn’t respected by its opponents. That was confirmed by newcomer Markieff Morris, who played with Miami last season.
“I agree with what he said. They were soft,” Morris said. “Point blank. When we played against them, they were soft. Just go right in their chest. That’s what we did.”
Having Simmons should help. He was an All-Defensive first-team pick in his final two seasons in Philadelphia, with the size and strength to guard all five positions.
“He’s strong as hell,” Morris said.
Simmons sat out training camp last year after deciding he would no longer play in Philadelphia for mental health reasons. The 76ers eventually sent him to Brooklyn in February in a deal headlined by James Harden, but the 2016 No.1 draft pick’s back problems flared up soon after he arrived.
It turned out Simmons had a herniated disk and had a procedure to remove a portion of it in the offseason.
“I don’t think people really realised where I was at,” Simmons said. “That day I was supposed to play Game 4, I woke up on the floor. Couldn’t move, could barely walk.”
He does exercises to manage the back pain and also said he takes daily steps to improve his mental health.
“That’s just working on yourself and I feel like everybody has dark days, but when you’re able to address it and you’re able to work toward a place to where you need to be, that’s where I am,” Simmons said.
Most importantly for the Nets, he’s finally out there alongside Durant. Nobody could be certain that would happen in the summer, though Nash never believed Durant had closed the door.
“It was never really as big a deal to me,” Nash said. “I always thought we’ve have our moment, discuss it and choose a course, and we’re fortunate to all be in the gym working again.”
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