Mayor Bill de Blasio’s valedictory lap around New York City has involved a lot of promotional events at which he gets to play nice with celebrities — from hanging out with Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring attention to the return of Broadway or putting on Slick Rick’s chain to bring attention to himself. But the mayor took a more serious tack at a Wednesday press conference when he encouraged Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to overcome his apparent COVID-vaccine skepticism.
A Nets fan since at least May, when he wore a James Harden jersey to a coronavirus press briefing, de Blasio said, “I really want to see Kyrie get vaccinated. I want to see the whole team stay healthy and safe this whole season.” The mayor added that a championship is “staring us in the face” if the team can stay “safe and healthy” — which is consistent with the Las Vegas oddsmakers’ prognosis. (One can assume de Blasio’s “safe and healthy” line referred to Irving’s vaccination status, but given the difficulty the Nets had just getting their stars’ hamstrings and ankles working at the same time last year, he could be referring to the wear and tear on superteams in the pandemic-era NBA.)
Irving has drawn increased scrutiny following a Rolling Stone report that detailed how a number of skeptics, including Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal and Andrew Wiggins, are influencing the mostly vaccinated NBA. Although Irving has not actually confirmed or denied his vaccination status, his aunt and close adviser Tyki Irving suggested he had not yet gotten the shots. He also had to call in remotely for the preseason media day this week; New York City COVID requirements demand that athletes living in the city must prove their vaccination status to appear in person. That rule could cause a big problem for the Nets if Irving remains a “contrarian without a cause,” as one NBA player put it.
Irving has asked that reporters and fans “respect my privacy” regarding vaccination. It’s a request that will probably go unfulfilled, as Republican senator Ted Cruz proved on Wednesday when he tweeted, “I stand with Kyrie Irving.” Perhaps this message of support from the notoriously self-interested senator will influence the famously generous NBA champ to reconsider the camp he is in.