Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has hit some of the biggest shots in NBA history, like his step-back 3-pointer that led to a 2016 NBA championship. But now the shot he may become most famous for is the one that he never took.
While speaking at the Nets media day this week, Irving told the press his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 vaccine last year cost him time — and millions of dollars.
“I gave up four years, $100-something million deciding to be unvaccinated, and that was the decision,” Irving said. “(Get this) 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.”
NBA players are not required to get vaccinated by the league, but they had to undergo stricter COVID protocols last season as part of the league’s pandemic safety measures. But in New York City where the Nets play, however, there was a vaccine mandate for businesses last season that kept Irving from playing in home games. So he missed dozens of games as a result, participating in just 29 of the 82 games for the Nets last season.
The Nets were set to give Kyrie a new contract last year, but Irving said that the contract would have only been officially offered to him if he was vaccinated against COVID, and could therefore play in home games. But since Irving never got the vaccine, he said they never agreed to a new contract.
“I didn’t appreciate how me being unvaccinated all of a sudden came to be a stigma within my career that I don’t want to play, or that I’m willing to give up everything to be a voice for the voiceless,” Irving continued.
Nets general manager Sean Marks, the person in charge of contract negotiations for the team, denied Irving’s claims that there was a formal ultimatum about Irving getting vaccinated, which stalled the contract negotiations.
“There’s no ultimatum being given here,” Marks said. “Again, it goes back to, you want people who are reliable, people who are here and accountable. 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.”
According to Bobby Marks of ESPN, Irving was eligible for as much as a five-year $246 million contract with the Nets last year, but the sides never agreed on a deal. Irving is currently playing with one-year remaining on his contract worth about $36 million.
Irving says his choice to not get vaccinated has not only cost him millions in a new contract with the Nets that never materialized, but he also lost money on his current deal, too. Last season, when Irving was sitting out games that he could not participate in due to New York City’s vaccine mandate, he was also fined as much as $15 million by the Nets.
New York City has since ended its vaccine mandate, allowing for Irving to play in Nets home games this season.