In a bit of a paradox, Kyrie Irving’s first win this season in his effort to play as the only unvaccinated Brooklyn Net occurred when the pandemic got worse. As his team’s roster of eligible COVID-negative players dwindled late last year, general manager Sean Marks determined that Irving would be allowed to take the court for away games — overruling the team’s prior decision that he would not suit up at all because he was not eligible to play at Barclays Arena as a result of a New York City law requiring athletes to be vaccinated to suit up for home games.
Now, with the Nets sucking brutally as they wait for their new star Ben Simmons to cast off any remaining mental-health demons from his time in Philadelphia, it appears the vaccine skeptic has gained a crucial ally. On Wednesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN that New York City should “should take a look at” its vaccine mandate requiring pro athletes to be vaccinated to play home games:
The oddity of it to me is that it only applies to home players. I mean, 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.
Silver has a point: It doesn’t make sense, strictly in terms of protecting those in Barclays, that an unvaccinated member of the Orlando Magic can take the court in New York but Irving cannot. But it is not so much an “oddity” as it is a rare public-health mandate with actual teeth. Silver, who is generally well respected among players, appealed to New York City mayor Eric Adams not to limit himself to the vision of his predecessor.
“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,” he said.
Silver has found a sympathetic ear in the new mayor, who has been consistent in his calls to “open up” the city amid the rise and fall of the Omicron variant. “The rule is unfair,” Adams told reporters Wednesday. “We are saying to out-of-town athletes that they can come in and not be vaccinated. Yet New York athletes, you have to be vaccinated.” For now, Adams said he won’t change the rule, though he is “struggling” with it.