The Nets announced Tuesday that they were indefinitely barring Kyrie Irving from all games and practices until he was “eligible to be a full participant.”
Irving, the team’s starting point guard, had faced the prospect of being able to play only on the road with the Nets this season because of local coronavirus ordinances in New York that require most individuals to be at least partially vaccinated to enter facilities such as sports arenas. The Nets play their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“Without a doubt, losing a player of Kyrie’s caliber hurts,” Sean Marks, the Nets’ general manager, said at a news conference. “I’m not going to deny that. But at the end of the day, our focus, our coaches’ focus and our organization’s focus needs to be on those players that are going to be involved here and participating fully.”
Irving has not spoken publicly about his vaccination status, asking instead for privacy, and the Nets had danced around the topic for weeks. In response to a question from The New York Times on Tuesday about whether Irving was vaccinated, Marks said: “If he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think that’s probably pretty clear.”
Marks said Irving would not be paid for missed home games, and that the decision to keep Irving away from the team had been made by himself and Joe Tsai, the Nets’ owner.
“Will there be pushback from Kyrie and his camp? I’m sure that this is not a decision that they like,” Marks said. “Kyrie loves to play basketball, wants to be out there, wants to be participating with his teammates. But again, this is a choice that Kyrie had and he was aware of that.”
Irving missed the Nets’ preseason home-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks after being listed as “ineligible” on the injury report. He also was not with the Nets in Philadelphia for their preseason game against the 76ers on Monday. Asked about his absence before the game, Steve Nash, the Nets’ coach, said: “We’re just trying to take our time to figure out what everything means.”
Irving’s potential absence from home games had created a predicament for the Nets, a team with championship aspirations that had to weigh whether having him around only half the time would be worth it. His teammates had expressed their support for him.
“It’ll work itself out,” James Harden said last week, adding: “I want him to be on the team, of course. He’s been a huge part of our success.”
On Tuesday, Marks said he would be willing to welcome Irving’s return to the team “under a different set of circumstances.”
Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play, require all employees and guests 12 and older to show proof of having received at least one vaccine dose, to comply with a city mandate, unless they have a religious or medical exemption. San Francisco has a similar requirement that applies to Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play. The mandates in both cities mean that the players from the Knicks, Nets and Golden State cannot play in their teams’ 41 home games without being vaccinated.
The ordinances in New York and San Francisco do not apply to players from visiting teams.
There is the chance, however, that additional players could miss games if other cities enact similar ordinances that prevent unvaccinated people from attending indoor gatherings. Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, for example, have been vocal about their refusals to be vaccinated.
Either way, unvaccinated players face a host of rules and restrictions this season. With limited exceptions, they are required to remain at home or at the team hotel when they are not at games or at practices. They also are not permitted to eat with vaccinated teammates, who have far more freedom to dine out and interact with the public.
Michele Roberts, the executive director of the players’ association, said in a recent interview that nearly 96 percent of the league’s players had been vaccinated.