Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving says he understands the career and financial implications of his decision not to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and that he is willing to stand up for what he believes in.
The Nets said earlier this week that they are benching Irving since his lack of vaccination means he cannot practise or play in New York City, and they are not prepared to put the team in a situation where he is a part-time road player.
Irving addressed the situation Wednesday night while speaking on Instagram Live. They were his first public comments since September 27 when he chatted with reporters via videoconference.
“The financial consequences, I know I do not want to even do that,” Irving, 29, said. “But it is reality that in order to be in New York City, in order to be on a team, I have to be vaccinated. I chose to be unvaccinated, and that was my choice, and I would ask you all to just respect that choice.
“I am going to just continue to stay in shape, be ready to play, be ready to rock out with my teammates and just be part of this whole thing. This is not a political thing; this is not about the NBA, not about any organisation. This is about my life and what I am choosing to do.”
When, or whether, he gets the chance to play this season is up in the air. But Irving, who won an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, said he isn’t giving up on his dream of winning another championship in Brooklyn with superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden.
And he said he is not retiring. If he doesn’t play this season, he could lose more than $17 million (£12.4m) in pay for the games that would have been played in Brooklyn and at Madison Square Garden.
“You really think I want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to give up my job? Think I really just want to sit at home and not go after the things with my teammates that I have been able to grow with, to learn with, to learn that it takes sacrifice in this space,” Irving said. “… You think I want to give up my livelihood because of a mandate, because I don’t have accommodations, because I am unvaccinated? Come on.”
Irving said he is neither pro-vaccine nor anti-vaccine. He emphasised he isn’t angry with the Nets or the NBA and doesn’t condemn those who made the decision to get vaccinated.
“You got to make these convictions yourself,” he said. “‘Yo, you are going to lose out on money; you are going to lose out on this.’ So what. It is not about the money, baby. It is about choosing what is best for you.”
He continued: “I am staying grounded in what I believe in. It is as simple as that. It is not about being anti-vax or about being on one side or the other. It is just really about being true to what feels good for me… If I am going to be demonised for having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, that is just what it is… I know the consequences of the decisions that I make with my life. I am not here to sugar-coat any of that.”