Kyrie Irving: Flat-Earther, Conspiracist, and… Anti-Vaxxer?

Kyrie Irving has come under fire from critics over the last few weeks for his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine, yet he remains firm in his decision.

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No one can deny that Kyrie Irving is a fantastic NBA player. The Brooklyn Nets point guard is a seven-time All-Star, a Rookie of the Year, and even an NBA Champion. He’s also a flat earther, an avid conspiracist, and, most recently, an anti-vaxxer. Irving has come under fire from critics over the last few weeks for his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine, yet he remains firm in his decision. But why is he so determined to remain unvaccinated when it goes against the New York City mandate? Is he really willing to give up his NBA career for his unfounded beliefs? What on (flat) earth is truly going on in his head?

Over the years, Irving has become notorious for his peculiar behavior and statements, such as the time he claimed that steak doesn’t come from “anything natural.” He has remained persistent in his war against science, and common sense, in his most recent stance against vaccination, steadfastly refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine despite playing for a city that requires all its players to get vaccinated before stepping on the court. His choice has generated tension among the players and coaches on the Nets, and there is much uncertainty heading into the start of the 2021-2022 NBA season on whether Irving will ever touch the court.

Nets General Manager Sean Marks released a statement regarding the situation on October 12, saying, “Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided [...] Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant. [...] Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.” Marks made it clear that the Nets aren’t interested in a part-time player, and they certainly don’t want a distraction heading into a season that they are expected to be championship contenders in.

Needless to say, Nets fans were dismayed to hear that their starting point guard would be absent from the upcoming season. “We want him here for games, practices, away games, shootarounds, all of it, so hopefully we figure this thing out,” Irving’s teammate and star forward Kevin Durant said.

Despite the pleas of fans and fellow players, Irving appears to have remained unconcerned about the situation, not speaking even once to the media since the Nets announced their decision. He did, however, go live on Instagram to discuss his thoughts about the predicament, and in addition to confirming his unvaccinated status, he claimed that he was promised an exemption from the vaccine by the league and that he would be playing this season. More information about this exception is yet to be released, but it is highly doubtful that Irving will be permitted to step on the court this season without receiving a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In his livestream, Irving insisted that his decision to remain unvaccinated was a “personal choice” made without political motivations. Some are hypothesizing that Irving is anti-vaccine in order to support employees who have lost their jobs because of vaccine mandates at their workplaces, while others simply think that he doesn’t trust the science behind the vaccine. Whatever the reasons may be, Irving’s decision is extremely reckless and selfish and will undoubtedly have negative consequences on both himself and his team. Based on the current rule agreed on by the league and the National Basketball Players Association, unvaccinated players stand to lose 1/91.6 of their salary for each game that they miss. For Irving, this rule means missing out on a substantial $380 thousand per home game. The greater ramifications of Irving’s decision, however, are on the Nets, as they will have to figure out their updated point guard rotation quickly and adapt to the new changes. Based on the Nets’ preseason, it seems likely that fourth-year journeyman Jevon Carter or NBA veteran Patty Mills will take over the majority of Irving’s minutes. While starting either player over the more talented All-Star is less than ideal, the Nets will have to hang on without Irving for the time being.

Irving’s future in Brooklyn is uncertain. The odds that Irving gives in and receives the vaccine are pretty slim, but no possibilities should be ruled out just yet. “I don’t know that I want to address the hypotheticals of what may happen in the future here. [...] The hope is that we have Kyrie back. We’ll welcome him back in open arms under a different set of circumstances,” Marks said during a press conference. Hopefully, Irving will have a change of heart and get vaccinated, not just for himself, but for his fans, teammates, and the basketball community at large.