NBA

New York City to drop vaccine mandate, but Nets’ Kyrie Irving will remain a part-time player for now

Irving, 29, has appeared in just 15 games this season.

Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving watches from the bench during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) The Associated Press


New York Mayor Eric Adams announced plans Sunday to halt a citywide coronavirus vaccine mandate, but it remains unclear when unvaccinated Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will be able to make a full return to the court.

Adams said on Twitter that New York City would remove an indoor mask mandate for students and a vaccine mandate that covers indoor dining, fitness centers and entertainment venues March 7, as long as the city’s case rates continue to “show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week.”

“I want to thank the millions of New Yorkers who masked up and helped us reach unprecedented levels of vaccinations,” wrote Adams, who had repeatedly hinted in recent weeks that the policy change was coming. “… We’ve fought a long, hard battle. And we’re winning it because of the grit and determination of every day New Yorkers like you.”

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But the mayor’s press secretary shortly thereafter confirmed a report by the Athletic that Irving, who has been unable to play home games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center this season, will still be sidelined by a private sector mandate. That regulation, which was put into place in late December, requires employees “who perform in-person work or interact with the public” to show proof of vaccination.

Irving, 29, has appeared in just 15 games this season after his refusal to get vaccinated triggered a months-long standoff with the Nets, who announced in October that they would not allow him to be a part-time player. Brooklyn reversed course in December, welcoming back Irving for road games while trying to manage a roster crunch caused by absences stemming from the coronavirus, as well as injury issues.

The seven-time all-star has averaged 25.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists, but his uncertain status has complicated a turbulent season that has included the Nets breaking up their star trio by trading James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“The circumstances this year have not been ideal, but I’m glad that’s kind of settling down and there’s light at the end of the tunnel here,” Irving said after a road win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday but before Adams’s announcement. “Hopefully I can get back on that home floor, playing in the Barclays. . . . I’m not the only one. I feel for everyone who is in my boat or a similar boat or has dealt with some type of trauma from this.”

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Per the city’s current “Key to NYC” health regulations, citizens have been required to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors at restaurants and nightclubs, work out in gyms and other fitness studios, and attend movies, concerts and professional sports games, among other public activities.

With coronavirus case counts dropping following the peak of the omicron wave in December and January, other cities and states with similar mandates have loosened their restrictions.

In New York City, 86% of the citywide population has received at least one vaccine dose and 77% is fully vaccinated. The citywide case count has dropped from a seven-day average of more than 44,000 on Jan. 5 to 636 on Feb. 24.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver publicly lobbied on Irving’s behalf for the first time last week, asserting during an ESPN interview that New York City’s vaccine mandate “doesn’t make sense” because it exempts unvaccinated players on visiting teams. At his All-Star Weekend address in Cleveland, Silver added that he expected New York City’s restrictions to be lifted if “local rates of infection and testing . . . continue to come down.”

Irving said Saturday that he was “grateful” for Silver’s support and that the commissioner “really took one for the team” with his statements.

The Nets (32-29) were pegged as preseason title favorites, but they enter this week as the East’s No. 8 seed, having tumbled in the standings during Kevin Durant’s absence with a knee sprain. Unless New York City alters or drops its private sector mandate, Irving is eligible to play in only nine of Brooklyn’s remaining 21 games before the playoffs, which begin in mid-April.

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