Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving said Monday that his decision to not get vaccinated against COVID-19 cost him $100 million. It also almost cost the Nets Kevin Durant.
“There was a lot of uncertainty around our team last year. I committed to this organization for four years last summer with the idea we were going to play with that group that we kind of went on that little run to the second round (in the 2020 playoffs). I felt like another year of that, us being healthy — we were building something towards the future,” Durant told reporters at the team’s media day on Monday.
“Then as the season went on, you (saw) what happened with our season, guys in and out of the lineup, injuries, just a lot of uncertainty, which built some doubt in my mind about the next four years in my career. I mean, I’m getting older, and I want to be in a place that’s stable and trying to build a championship culture. So, I had some doubts about that. I voiced them to (owner) Joe (Tsai), and we moved forward from there.”
The “uncertainty around the team” line is an obvious jab – pun totally intended – at Irving, who had to miss home games into late March because of the New York City vaccine mandate, and as a result only played in 29 games in the 2021-2022 season.
With Irving largely off the floor, Brooklyn, a championship contender when the season started, stumbled to a 44-38 finish, had to win a play-in game to get the main draw of the playoffs, and then was swept in the first round by Boston.
Along the way, the Nets traded James Harden, and the front office had to convince Durant, who requested to be traded as well, to stay on, which he ultimately did.
But Irving being Irving, he of course made the story about the mess he caused all about how it hurt him.
“I gave up four years, 100-and-something million deciding to be unvaccinated, and that was the decision,” said Irving, who isn’t exactly going penniless here.
He’s playing out the final year of a contract that will pay him $36.5 million this season.
“Contract, get vaccinated, or be unvaccinated, and there’s a level of uncertainty of your future, whether you’re going to be in this league, whether you’re going to be on this team, so I had to deal with that real-life circumstance of losing my job for this decision,” Irving said.
Nets GM Sean Marks addressed the notion that the front office gave Irving an ultimatum regarding his contract.
“It goes back to you want people who are reliable, people who are here, and accountable,” Marks said. “All of us – staff, players, coaches, you name it. It’s not giving somebody an ultimatum to get a vaccine. That’s a completely personal choice. I stand by Kyrie. I think if he wants, he’s made that choice. That’s his prerogative completely.”
It’s also Irving’s prerogative to continue to make his decision to not get the jab into him being some kind of hero.
“I didn’t appreciate how me being vaccinated, all of a sudden, came to be a stigma within my career that I don’t want to play, or I’m willing to give up everything to be a voice for the voiceless. And which I will stand on here and say that, that wasn’t the only intent that I had, was to be the voice of the voiceless, it was to stand on something that was going to be bigger than myself,” Irving said, somehow with a straight face.
Back to Durant: remember how Durant and Irving chose Brooklyn together when they were free agents in 2018?
Yeah, the honeymoon is long since over.
“I’m not the liaison between Kyrie and the organization. I always told them that. I always told Sean and Kyrie, y’all gotta build your relationship how y’all do it. Because everybody’s separate, everybody’s different, you approach each player differently,” Durant said.
Translation: y’all figure him out.
Should be another fun ride for Nets fans.