Kyrie Irving’s planned return to Nets complicated by COVID



With COVID-19 spiking again and the Omicron variant wreaking havoc in pro sports, it sticks out like a sore thumb that the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving is being brought back into the fold by the Nets.

Or at least he was, until he all-too-predictably tested positive for coronavirus.

The enigmatic All-Star’s situation poses tons of questions about what comes next for Irving and the Nets. The Post’s Brian Lewis has some answers:

Assuming the mandates don’t change and Irving’s vaccination status doesn’t change, what happens in the playoffs? Will he only play road games?

Ostensibly? Yes. But a lot can happen in four months, so it’s dodgy to presume the city’s vaccine mandates won’t be tweaked between now and then with Eric Adams as mayor instead of Bill de Blasio.

Irving has also reportedly shown at least some openness to the idea of a plant-based vaccine, since his diet is 100 percent plant-based. Quebec City-based Medicago announced this month that its two-dose vaccine was 71 percent effective in a large late-stage study that included the Delta variant, but not Omicron.

Nets guard Kyrie Irving calls a play during the second half against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on May 15, 2021.
Kyrie Irving
Getty Images

They’re seeking Canadian approval “imminently” and starting the process to file with U.S. regulators. Past precedent implies they could be approved before the end of the regular season. Now, would Irving actually take it? After stunning the Nets by refusing the first vaccine? That’s the million dollar question. Or $17 million.

Apropos of that, what does this mean regarding Irving’s salary? He was already losing half of it, right?

Still is. Or roughly. He was getting docked game checks for all the home games for which he was ineligible, and that hasn’t changed. And the Nets had actually opted to pay him for the road games even though he wasn’t playing or practicing — probably wise, since Irving is vice president of the National Basketball Players Association and would have a case to gripe to the union.

Now he’ll just be working for his pay.

How do fans feel about his return?

There’s an inherent danger in treating social media like the real world, or presuming Twitter (or Instagram or Reddit) represents reality.

But there seems to be a pretty nasty divide between those who 1) were loudly backing Irving for not getting vaccinated and standing against any mandates, and 2) those who felt he should’ve gotten vaccinated, mandate or not, simply for the greater good. The latter group is now more vexed not that he’s un-vaxxed, but that the Nets appear to have caved and let him back on the court.

How do teammates feel about his return?

I think the more germane question is how do Kevin Durant and James Harden feel about his return? NetsDaily reported that the agent for one of them met with GM Sean Marks, and although the team denied it, clearly Marks wouldn’t have done something this seismic without consulting Brooklyn’s two stars.

Durant came to Brooklyn with Irving, and recently called him his “brother.” Harden lacks that preexisting relationship, but came here to win his first ring and has openly talked about how hard it is without Irving. Do the math.

On the topics of rings, the Nets have said this is about roster depletion, but since Irving isn’t eligible to play now (and might not be for some time), isn’t it fair to ask how much this is simply about “The Nets are a third of the way through the season, and they haven’t beaten a single really good team yet. They realized they can’t win big without Kyrie, so COVID is basically the excuse to bring him back?”

For the Nets, it’s all about winning. The team owner told The Post so himself.

Brooklyn sits fifth in both overall Net Rating (plus 3.4) and the league’s weekly ratings. But beating Phoenix or Golden State for a title without Irving seems a tall order, and league personnel who spoke with The Post were split on their ability to do so. Owner Joe Tsai openly admits the title was a driving factor in this.

“My only religion is to win games and win the championship. That’s where we are,” Tsai told The Post. “I think a lot of people that are either pro-vax or anti-vax people are mad at me for taking one stance or the other. But I have said from the very beginning I’m not taking this as a political thing. I’m doing this to help the Brooklyn Nets win a championship. That’s the thinking.”


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