Since coming into the league as the number one draft pick in 2011, Irving has not just won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2016), he’s become an activist, a philanthropist and one of six vice-presidents of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).
The 29-year-old, who is of African American and Native American heritage, also admits to becoming a “big conspiracy theorist”.
Mandates for all NBA team staff, coaches and referees to be vaccinated have been passed, but the NBPA is refusing to accept one for the players.
However, last month New York and San Francisco passed local vaccine mandates for all those entering indoor entertainment and performing arts venues. This month, Los Angeles followed suit.
Those markets feature five NBA teams, including Brooklyn, so Irving was set to miss home games. He was going to be hit in the pocket too.
The NBPA did agree to a reduction in pay of about 1% of an unvaccinated player’s salary for each game they miss. For Irving, that’s about $380,000 (£279,000), and with 41 home games in the regular season, that would total about $15.6m (£11.5m) for the whole season.
Speculation turned to how the Nets, expected to be championship-contenders after recruiting the star trio of Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden, would manage having their starting point guard as a part-time player.
They reacted by saying the seven-time All-Star won’t be selected at all “until he is eligible to be a full participant”. In the same statement, Brooklyn’s general manager Sean Marks added: “Kyrie has made a personal choice and we respect his individual right to choose.”
“I’m not ashamed to say that I’m uncomfortable with taking the vaccine at this time,” said Isaac, 24.
“I understand that the vaccine would help if you have Covid, you’ll be able to have less symptoms from contracting it. But with me having Covid in the past and having antibodies, with my current age group and physical fitness level, it’s not necessarily a fear of mine.”
The six-time NBA champion also told Rolling Stone:external-link “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their team-mates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research.”
After initial hesitancy, Los Angeles Lakers star James said he researched the vaccine before deciding “it was best suited for me and my family and my friends. But as far as speaking for everybody and what they want to do, that’s not my job.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, last season’s Finals MVP as the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA title, has also confirmed he’s been vaccinated, saying: “I did what was best for me and my family to stay protected.”
What are the rules for unvaccinated players?
After training camps started, the vaccination rate among NBA players rose from 90% to 95%, leaving about 30 still to get the jab across the league’s 30 teams. That compares to 64.7% for the whole of the US population.
Visiting players are exempt from the local vaccine mandates so any still unvaccinated can play away games in New York, San Francisco or LA.
However, according to NBA protocols, they must have daily testing before entering a team facility or interacting with players and coaches. Vaccinated players are only tested if they show symptoms or are a close contact of a positive case.
According to Canada’s Quarantine Act, they must take a Covid test when arriving in the country and will only be permitted to leave their hotel room for team activities. Anyone breaking the rules can face up to six months in prison and/or $750,000 (£443,275) in fines.