Kyrie Irving returned to play recently for the Brooklyn Nets. He put up an exhilarating exhibition of court wizardry in a road-win against the Indiana Pacers, sending Brooklyn fans dreaming once again of a first-ever championship for the franchise. This is certainly not far-fetched, as the team has been on either ranked 1st or 2nd in the Eastern conference leaderboard, despite the absence of their 3rd star. Kyrie’s talents were clearly mesmerizing in that win over the Pacers, and he remains one of the big fan favorites in the NBA.
But then, things just aren’t as simple as that.
Kyrie remains stubborn in his stand against COVID-19 vaccination. Having remained unvaccinated, he cannot play in any home games in Brooklyn due to a New York City protocol on the COVID-19 campaign. He is also banned from playing in games against the New York Knicks or the Toronto Raptors, due to the same or a similar protocol imposed.
As of today, Brooklyn holds a 24-13 win-loss slate, good for 2nd spot in the Eastern Conference. Of the 45 remaining regular games for the Nets, Kyrie can play in only 21 of these games, all of them outside New York. In their latest game today in New York, the Nets lost to the defending champs Milwaukee Bucks, 121-109, further underscoring the significance of Kyrie’s presence in the line-up, if they are to compete for the crown.
Kyrie’s position makes for a very difficult situation for the Nets. First, it puts more pressure on their key players, most especially Kevin Durant and James Harden, who must now put in more minutes to compensate for his absence. The bigger playing minutes puts them at greater risk of injury. (Recall what happened to Klay Thompson during the 2019 playoffs, ultimately costing him 2 wasted seasons.) It also puts pressure on coach Steve Nash, who must now prepare 2 different starting line-ups and conjure 2 different line-up rotations; the first featuring a triple threat of superstars, and the second with a more vulnerable, more overworked pair of Durant and Harden. Ultimately, this could cause a potentially explosive scenario in the Nets’ locker room.
Where does this situation lead to? In the event that the New York state legislature, the Nets management and Kyrie don’t budge, then the Nets will be move on to the playoffs with Kyrie playing the road games, while being absent for the home games. You have 2 different Nets team competing in a toxic atmosphere that could only lead to disaster. You have an unhealthy situation where Nets fans will want to have the their team land in 7th or 8th in the regular season in order not to enjoy homecourt advantage, since the homecourt will feature a Kyrie-less team, while a road game will have Kyrie playing. The homecourt then shall not give them any advantage at all; an unusual situation where home is your enemy and the road is your friend.
Kyrie’s decision not to undergo vaccination is a grave distraction that will significantly affect the Brooklyn Nets’ quest for the crown. If he continues threading this path, chances are that he will earn the disfavor not only of the Nets fans, but of his teammates and the Nets management as well. Charles Barkley spoke out against Kyrie’s part-time status curtly when he said: “Kyrie Irving is a heck of a player. But to only play in road games, I don’t think it’s fair to the game. More importantly, I don’t think it’s fair to the team.”
True. The Nets have been clawing and scratching to get a chance at that elusive crown. Durant and Harden have had to work double-time to keep the team in contention. To have Kyrie play in only half the games mocks the very essence of teamwork. Kyrie may have his reasons not to get the vaccine, but when the team’s aspirations are on the line, at a time when most everyone in the league have submitted to the vaccination protocols, then his views must be subordinated to that of the overall majority. He may feel safe without the vaccine, but if the league – and society in general – feels unsafe precisely because of his non-vaccination, then it is he who has to bend.
The ball is in Kyrie’s hands. He can decide to play with it, and shoot for the basket. Or he can leave the court and walk away.
Cover photo courtesy of: Bleacher Report. For a better look, just click on the pics. Other pics courtesy of New York Post, Air Alamo, SB Nation and Nets Daily.