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Report: Kyrie Irving, NBA Anti-Vaxxers at Odds With NBA Protocols, Vaccinated Players – Sports Illustrated

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It appears that many NBA players are opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine and several issues have risen concerning the league’s protocols, according to in-depth piece by Rolling Stone‘s Matt Sullivan. Nets point guard Kyrie Irving’s distrust of the vaccine is noted along with several vaccinated NBA players voicing their concerns about the upcoming NBA season. 

On Aug. 7, the National Basketball Player’s Association had a virtual meeting with the league where COVID-19 protocols were discussed. The NBA wanted to agree to terms that 100% of NBA players would be required to get vaccinated, but the issue was a “Non-starter. Non-starter,” players and an executive told Rolling Stone. Unvaccinated players shut down that proposition and agreed there should be testing but not during off days. They did agree to mandatory masks on the court and on the road, however. 

The NBA agreed to these terms and also made socially-distance travel “suggested,” per Rolling Stone. NBA regulators will also be looking out for forged vaccine cards, but only if an issue was brought to their attention. Among the unvaccinated coalition is Irving, who is the vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union.

Recently, Irving started to like Instagram posts and follow an account that claims “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan,” according to Rolling Stone. Misinformation and conspiracy theories have been spreading to NBA locker rooms across the country, per the report. 

New York and San Francisco are the only two places that have required pro athletes to show proof of one COVID-19 vaccination dose to play indoors, except with an approved medical or religious exemption. Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins was denied a religious exemption earlier this week. But, one of Irving’s family members chimed in on a possible idea for unvaccinated players: they could sit out of games in New York and San Francisco—even if it’s their team.

“There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way,” Kyrie’s aunt, Tyki Irving, who runs his family foundation and is one of his advisors, told Rolling Stone. “It could be like every third game. So it still gives you a full season of being interactive and being on the court, but with the limitations that they’re, of course, oppressing upon you. There can be some sort of formula where the NBA and the players can come to some sort of agreement.”

Irving’s vaccination status is unclear, but NBA legend Kareem Abdul–Jabbar felt strongly on the matter.

“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” Abdul-Jabbar told Rolling Stone. “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research. What I find especially disingenuous about the vaccine deniers is their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet, if their child was sick or they themselves needed emergency medical treatment, how quickly would they do exactly what those same experts told them to do?”

Magic forward Jonathan Isaac shared his distrust of the vaccine. Issac told Rolling Stone that he began studying Black history, watching Donald Trump press conferences and learning about antibody resistance. He also told Rolling Stone came to distrust Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

Celtics center Enes Kanter, who is a devout Muslim, shared his issues with using a religious exception. 

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“If a guy’s not getting vaccinated because of his religion, I feel like we are in a time where the religion and science has to go to together,” he told Rolling Stone. “I’ve talked to a lot of religious guys—I’m like: ‘It saves people’s lives, so what is more important than that?’

“If you’re a player and you’re not vaccinated and you miss a week or two weeks, it could literally change the whole season—and we’re trying to win a championship!” 

Kanter and a teammate also shared that multiple Celtics players are not vaccinated. The NBA has been hesitant to reach out to its brightest stars in an effort to entice them to promote the vaccine. The league is afraid of pressuring the faces of the NBA but again, Abdul–Jabbar didn’t hold back.

“They are failing to live up to the responsibilities that come with celebrity,” Abdul–Jabbar told Rolling Stone in an email. “Athletes are under no obligation to be spokespersons for the government, but this is a matter of public health.”

Irving, fellow Nets stars Kevin Durant and James Harden are expected to speak Monday at a league-mandated pre-season media day. The same one Irving skipped last year because, he wrote on Instagram, the media are “pawns.”

Additionally, Irving made a trip to South Dakota in August in a surprise visit to a schoolyard at a Sioux reservation where he planned to take selfies and give signatures to kids there. But in the school where all students over 12 were required to wear a mask, Irving didn’t, according to Rolling Stone.

“Pretty much everyone had a mask on,” the mother of one student in attendance told Rolling Stone. “Everyone but Kyrie, everywhere he went.”

The superintendent insisted masks were kept on, but on the schools’ Facebook page, photoshopped pictures can be seen in an attempt to make it seem that Irving and several students wore their masks.

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