The Nets can’t tell Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated. But they can tell him (and they have) how much they want him playing. And not just part-time, but all-in. Whatever it takes.
“He knows that. He knows that,” James Harden said, repeating for emphasis. “He knows that. He knows that.”
Irving missed the first 35 games of the season because of his refusal to adhere to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which bars him from playing home games. The Nets, after bringing Irving back just for road games, are reportedly doing their part to convert him from a part-time player to full-time again.
The Nets let Irving return for road games, starting with Wednesday’s win in Indiana. But Friday’s 121-109 loss to Milwaukee — at home, thus without Irving — was a stark reminder of just how much they need him.
It’s not as if they don’t remind him regularly, even if the word vaccine doesn’t come up.
“Nah. I told him how much, how important he is, how much I want him to play every game,” Kevin Durant said. “But I’m not about to force somebody to get a vaccine. That’s not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I’m not about to do that.
“We’ve had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time. But that’s on his time. Whatever decision he makes, he’s gonna make. It’s on us to come in here and be professionals no matter what, handle it and do our jobs, all of us from owner down to equipment manager. So whenever he’s ready, he’ll be ready.”
The Post reported during training camp that the Nets hoped to get Irving qualified on a non-resident loophole because he lives in New Jersey. YES broadcaster Ian Eagle has said the Nets have been talking with city officials to see if there is any way to get the seven-time All-Star cleared for home games.
“The Nets are furiously working behind the scenes with the City to find a way for Kyrie to play full time,” Eagle told Sam Mitchell and Brian Geltzeiler on Sirius XM.
It would seem to be a long shot, but apparently one the Nets deem worth pursuing with Irving dug in.
Irving, a vegan, could be more open to a plant-based vaccine, a Bally Sports report speculated. The three current vaccines in the United States were tested on animals but none of them use animal-derived ingredients. A Canadian biotech company — the “world’s first plant-based vaccine for use in humans,” according to its CEO — is going through clinical trials and in December, started the process of filing with U.S. regulators.
That could be a while. Irving is one of just 6.7 percent of adults in New York City not to have gotten a single vaccine dose. The number among NBA players is an estimated 3 percent.
Meanwhile, the Nets wait. And try to figure their way amid this crazy situation.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said he would handle the Irving situation in a similar way Durant and Harden are.
“When it comes to basketball, I feel like I can talk to them. When it comes to a personal decision like that. … I’ve got to let them make their decision,” Antetokounmpo said. “They’re grown men, and every situation is different. I cannot pressure somebody to do something that he doesn’t feel comfortable doing.
“I don’t know what relationship they have, what kind of relationship they have. They probably have talked to him. But they cannot keep on pressuring him to do something he doesn’t feel comfortable, because it takes so much energy and takes energy away from basketball. That why we’re here.”