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Horning: Vaccine holdouts a strange look for NBA

  • 3 min to read

The temptation is to make fun of Kyrie Irving.

The Brooklyn Nets star is one of the best basketball players on the planet but marches to the beat of a different drummer — his own.

He’s thoughtful in a way so many athletes aren’t. Yet, where some of those thoughts come from, who knows?

In 2017, Irving announced his belief that the world is flat. He later said he was joking. He later refused to admit the world is round. He later apologized for saying the earth is flat, saying he didn’t mean to have “science teachers, everybody coming up to me like, ‘You know, I have to reteach my whole curriculum.’” He later said, in an interview with the New York Times, “I just love hearing the debate.”

Also Irving does not appear to be vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus.

He did not show up in person for Nets media day on Monday, and on a Zoom call, left his vaccination status and his plan-to-get-vaccinated status utterly nebulous, sort of like his position on the shape of the earth.

“I just would love to keep that private and handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with a plan,” The Athletic reported Irving as having said. “Obviously, I’m not able to be there today, but that doesn’t mean I’m putting any limits on the future of my being able to join the team,” which sounds a lot like “Maybe I’ll get the shot and maybe I won’t.”

So, it’s easy to make fun of him because is he really going to forfeit about $17 million of his salary, which he would have to if he goes unvaccinated, given New York mayor Bill DeBlasio’s executive order that athletes who practice or play in the city must offer proof of at least one shot?

Irving is not alone.

The same type of executive order — only more stringent, full vaccination required — is in play in San Francisco, where Andrew Wiggins is supposed to play for Golden State. He only stands to lose about $16 million for remaining unvaccinated.

The Knicks are subject to DeBlasio’s order, too, yet they are 100 percent vaccinated, so who says New York’s original NBA team doesn’t know what it’s doing?

It’s a surprising look for the league, whose players, with commissioner Adam Silver’s backing, chose not to play originally scheduled playoff games in the Orlando bubble two postseasons ago in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

It is a league and group of players that has been decidedly progressive on the issues of our time.

It is a league and group of players that have succeeded in bringing attention to those issues.

It is a league and group of players that, whether you agree with their taking such a public stand or not, it’s hard to be for the things they have been against, for even in these terrifyingly divisive times, it’s hard to find anybody proudly proclaiming their racism or proudly believing unarmed Black men should be shot or killed by anybody.

Yet, here we are, ready to get the country moving again on the back end of the vaccine, but more than a third of us have yet to be vaccinated, and some our biggest athletic stars, who haven’t struggled to put themselves in the political crossfire before, can’t get with the program.

It’s not just Irving and Wiggins, but the great Bradley Beal, the NBA face of the nation’s capital, who appeared happy to shock everybody with his stance.

“For Washingtonians who admired his outspokenness on issues of social justice, the boldness in which he shared misinformation was puzzling,” wrote the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner on Tuesday.

Orlando forward Jonathan Isaac announced he is not vaccinated at Magic media day. Denver forward Michael Porter claims to have had COVID twice, but not a vaccination shot.

Phoenix’s Devin Booker is reportedly fighting COVID, but had this to say about his vaccination status.

“I’m not going to tell you if I have the vaccine or not, but you can still get COVID with the vaccine,” he said.

For a league full of folks obsessed with brand, it is very off brand.

Still …

The Jazz?

100 percent vaccinated.

The Thunder?

100 percent vaccinated.

The Trail Blazers?

100 percent vaccinated.

The Rockets?

100 percent vaccinated.

The Spurs?

100 percent vaccinated.

The Buffalo Sabres?

Wrong league, but still.

The Hawks?

One second-dose short of 100 percent vaccination as of last Friday, said GM Travis Schlenk.

In all, 90 percent of the NBA’s players are vaccinated, several reports suggest.

For holdouts, it’s a bad look, for them and the league they represent.

Also, but for the guy not sure the earth is round and a few others … they’re way out in front of the rest of us.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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