On Wednesday, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving spoke to reporters for the first time since the start of the season.
Irving was asked to rejoin the club as a part-time player after passing the league’s health and safety requirements despite being unvaccinated.
Irving was first ruled ineligible to play-at-home games by the Nets organization after he refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Heavy. According to ESPN, the seven-time All-Star was also barred from participating in team workouts until he was cleared to be a full participant.
The West Orange, N.J., native’s refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine placed him in conflict with a New York City ordinance that required proof of immunization in order to access arenas, gyms, restaurants, and other indoor facilities, as we’ve chronicled extensively at The Root. As a result, he’s not allowed to play in any of the Nets’ home games, forcing the franchise to announce in October that he wouldn’t be allowed to participate in any games or practices this season—in other words, until he’s “qualified to be a full participant.”
“I understood their decision, and I respected it. … I knew the consequences. I wasn’t prepared for them. I really had to sit back and think and try to not become too emotionally attached to what they were deciding to do. I had to sit down and really evaluate things and see it from their perspective, meaning the organization and my teammates,” the 2016 NBA champion told Heavy.
Because of the spread of the coronavirus throughout the NBA, a record 541 players played in at least one game during the current season.
Irving expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to return.
“Not going to lie, it’s been relatively tough to watch from the sideline, with everything going on in the world. I know everybody’s feeling it, so, just praying for everybody to be healthy during these times. But if I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with some of my teammates, and even if it’s just on the road for away games, I’m just grateful for that opportunity,” Irving said, The Spun reports.
Irving stayed in shape while on the bench and was ready when the Nets demanded his return.
“I said, ‘Absolutely.’ This has always been where I want to be. I’ve wanted to be playing with the team in whatever capacity I can do that,” he explained, according to NBC Sports.
If he stays healthy (a big if) and COVID doesn’t play a role in the NBA playoffs (an even bigger if), his comeback will drastically alter Brooklyn’s chances of winning a title.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out, but it’s reasonable to say that the Nets organization is overjoyed right now.
Irving was part of a “stay-ready” group that worked on conditioning and played during practice, according to Nets coach Steve Nash. He also shared his thoughts on how the 29-year-old looked in his return to the team facilities after averaging 26.9 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game the previous season.
“He looks great considering he just came out of protocols and hasn’t played basketball,” Nash told reporters, via ESPN.
“How does he recover from today? How many high-intensity [practices] does he need to feel comfortable, confident? It’s still a shifting landscape,” Nash said of Irving’s condition. “I couldn’t give you an answer, but as far as seeing him in the flesh today he looked as well as you could expect considering everything that’s happened in the last few weeks.”