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What if Kyrie Irving just… didn’t play home games this year? This is getting weird

Kyrie Irving, Nets

This situation went from zero to 60 in a hurry. You don’t have to be vaccinated to play in the NBA, but you do have to be vaccinated if you play for the Knicks or in Brooklyn. That would theoretically only leave road games for any Net who didn’t want a jab. So…is it possible Kyrie Irving won’t particulate in home games for the Brooklyn Nets this season? Could the team win the title if he did not?

That would leave 4o Nets away games (all but San Francisco) plus the playoffs. Would it be enough? Would the team deliberately punt home-court advantage during the regular season to ensure more games with their star guard in the lineup? Might this balloon into a story about labor rights or human rights? Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s rewind to see what we may have learned so far.

Nets fans are aware that on September 14, we learned the following, per Baxter Holmes and Adrian Wojnarowski, of ESPN:

“The NBA and NBPA continue to negotiate aspects of COVID-related protocols and procedures for the upcoming 2021-22 campaign, but the NBPA has refused to budge on its demand that players not be required to take the vaccine, sources say, and any proposal that mandates vaccination remains a “non-starter.”

NBA referees and most NBA staff are mandated to be vaccinated.”

OK, so players won’t need vaccines, but there are exceptions. In the same article, the following appears:

“The NBA informed teams in early September that new laws in both New York and San Francisco regarding vaccine requirements will be enforced for members of the New York KnicksBrooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors — including for their teams’ players — unless there is an approved medical or religious exemption, according to a memo obtained by ESPN.”

While the Nets consider how to handle all of this, the Knicks are fully vaccinated, so this isn’t an issue for them. The Warriors are not, and Andrew Wiggins, reportedly not vaccinated, whose team now plays in San Francisco, sought a religious exemption.

He was denied exemption by the city last week.

Earlier last week, Nets general manager Sean Marks offered an update on his team’s vaccination status and eligibility to play. Per Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News:

“There would obviously be a couple people missing from that picture,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “I won’t get into who it is, but we feel confident in the following several days before camp (that) everybody would be allowed to participate and so forth.”

We wondered which Nets he might be referring to, knowing that if one or more of their big three had to miss games over this, it would represent the team’s nightmare scenario.

Yaron Weitzman of FoxSports didn’t soothe Nets fans’ nerves when he reported that one of the unvaccinated players is Kyrie Irving. Per Weitzman:

“According to multiple league sources, Irving has yet to receive a vaccine shot. Both the Nets and a spokeswoman for Irving declined to comment on the record about Irving’s vaccination status, but Nets general manager Sean Marks was asked during a news conference on Tuesday whether New York City’s mandate could sideline any of his team’s players.”

With each bit of news, the Nets get closer and closer to a reality playing out where the home opener on October 24 approaches and one of their stars is not available, for unprecedented reasons.

If indeed Irving did not want a vaccine, would he seek a religious or medical exemption? Would New York deny him one like San Francisco denied Wiggins?

The latest reportage from Rolling Stone suggests Irving might not even look for an exemption.

Matt Sullivan writes:

“The league was not expected to rule immediately on any more such requests, but Irving could seek his own exemption, or get vaccinated — or simply refuse to play in Brooklyn.

“He is going to try to figure that out as it comes, because it’s not religious-based, it’s moral-based,” says Irving’s aunt Tyki. “You may have to sit on the sideline, you might not have to be in the arena during this. If it’s that freaking important to get a vaccine that, hell, it’s still not preventing the Covid” — which it is — “then I’d rather them working it out that way than to say, ‘Hey, if you don’t get the vaccine, then you can’t be a part of the franchise that you fuckin’ helped build.’”

If you thought I sounded crazy wondering if the Nets might prepare to not have Irving for potentially all of their home games this season, rest assured, I felt crazy wondering it. But here we are.

If Weitzman’s report is true — that Irving is not vaccinated — and Sullivan’s piece offers a glimpse into the thinking of Irving’s family (if not Irving himself), then maybe this is something that could seriously affect the Nets’ season.

Could this be why Stephen A. Smith said the team would absolutely have considered swapping Kyrie for Ben Simmons recently? Did Brooklyn know it had a potential disaster scenario on its hands and consider sending him to a team where he’d be eligible to play all season? Can you even imagine the phone calls: Hey, we’re open to trading one of our stars, but we only want to discuss a couple of your vaccinated players. Don’t worry, he’s eligible to play in your state, we checked. 

I’m personally refraining from any strong opinions until we get some more definitive word on Irving’s current vaccination status and season outlook. As of now, it’s been reported that the NBA is about 90 percent vaxed. But there are players who have opted against taking the jab and those represent a vocal subset. They may look to pressure the league to find some type of compromise. If Irving wound up at the forefront of that effort, it probably would not help his cause that he’s potentially burrowing down some conspiracy theory rabbit holes on social media.

Per Sullivan’s piece:

“Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.”

If there are conversations happening between the NBA, league brass, and the NBPA, and anyone is trying to advocate for change, it would seem to undercut those efforts if there was even the mere suggestion of conspiracy theories involving microchips. Everything is weird.

In terms of hoops, I actually do think the Nets are talented enough to win a title with Irving only participating in road games. They could embrace it like a complex load-management program: Try to have at least Kevin Durant or James Harden for each home game, and then rest one of them when Irving is in uniform.

Imagine if an opponent could lock up home-court advantage through the playoffs but did not want to because it would mean an extra game potentially facing Irving? And imagine if the Nets didn’t want home court either?!

Could we theoretically see a game with the one-seed on the line while both the Nets and Bucks were trying to tank in order to control just how many games Irving were eligible to appear in by the Conference Finals?

What if the Warriors and Nets made the Finals? Would he and Wiggins have to sit out the entire series?

Why do I feel like everything is going to get even weirder than it already is?