Saturday, November 27th, 2021

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All-Star Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has defended his decision to not get vaccinated against the coronavirus as “what’s best” for him, after team officials said he would not be allowed to practice or play with the team without getting inoculated.

The Nets announced earlier this week that Irving, 29, would not be part of the team until he can “be a full participant”.

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He is not eligible to play Nets home games in New York City, where a New York mandate requires professional athletes on one of the city’s teams to be vaccinated to practice or play in public venues.

Speaking on Instagram Live on Wednesday, Irving said he loved basketball and was not going to retire.

“I am doing what’s best for me. I know the consequences here and if it means that I’m judged and demonised for that, that’s just what it is,” he said. “That’s the role I play, but I never wanted to give up my passion, my love, my dream just over this mandate.”

Irving would have been able to practice with the Nets and play in road games outside New York. The Nets will pay him for those but he is giving up about half of his $35m salary by missing the home games.

“So what? It’s not about the money,” Irving said. “It’s not always about the money. It’s about choosing what’s best for you. You think I really want to lose money?”

His comments come amid continued concerns over the spread of the Delta variant and persistent vaccine hesitancy among Americans. Local officials and the administration of President Joe Biden have in recent weeks responded with vaccine mandates.

The Biden administration on Wednesday said those mandates are working.

In a White House news briefing, officials said vaccination rates have risen by more than 20 percentage points after multiple institutions adopted vaccine requirements, while case numbers and deaths from the virus are down.

Officials said 77 percent of eligible Americans have received at least one jab to date and that rates went up thanks to mandates put into place by private businesses, healthcare systems, social institutions and state and local governments.

But resistance to vaccines remains a challenge, and institutions have put restrictions in place for those who insist on remaining unvaccinated.

NBA players who are not vaccinated will have to comply with a long list of restrictions to take part in the upcoming season, which is set to begin October 19.

On Wednesday, Irving said his ultimate decision on getting a vaccine would have nothing to do with the Nets – nor with the New York mandate. “This is not about the Nets, this is not about the organization, it’s not about the NBA, it’s not politics,” he said.

“It’s not any one thing. It’s just about the freedom of what I want to do.

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