Kyrie Irving breaks silence on retirement talk, vaccine mandate

Speaking for the first time since the Nets decided they would not accommodate him as a part-time player this season because of his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Kyrie Irving made it clear that he is not going to retire.

Otherwise, the Nets point guard’s thinking and status for the season remained cloudy as he tried to explain why he has not been vaccinated, which for the foreseeable future will keep him off the court.

“It’s reality that in order to be in New York City, in order to be on the team I have to be vaccinated,” Irving said Wednesday night in a rambling 20-minute Instagram Live session that drew over 100,000 viewers. “I chose to be unvaccinated. And that was my choice. And I would ask y’all just to respect that choice.

Kyrie Irving breaks silence on retirement talk, vaccine mandate
Kyrie Irving
Corey Sipkin

“I’m staying grounded in what I believe in,” Irving said “It’s not about being anti-vax or about being on one side or the other. It’s about being true to what feels good for me. I’m still uncertain about a lot of things. And that’s OK. If I’m going to be demonized about having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, then that’s just what it is.”

New York City vaccine mandates prohibit Irving from playing home games at Barclays Center because of his unvaccinated status. The team took it a step further on Tuesday, with general manager Sean Marks announcing that Irving would not play or practice with the team, home or road, “until he is eligible to be a full participant” — meaning he gets the vaccine or local mandates change.

“What would you do if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you would have exemptions or that you didn’t have to be forced to get the vaccine?” Irving said. “This wasn’t an issue before the season started. This wasn’t something I foresaw coming where I prepared for it.”

It is not clear whether Irving applied for an exemption. Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins was recently denied a religious exemption before getting the vaccine to be able to play a full schedule.

As of Wednesday, the death toll from COVID-19 had reached over 700,000 in the United States. The vaccines have proven to largely prevent deaths and hospitalizations.

“We just came out of one of the craziest pandemics of all time and you’re telling me to think rationally?” Irving said. “How many people are really thinking rationally?”

Irving stands to lose more than $15.5 million this season if he does not play any home games because of the vaccine issue.

“It’s not about the money, baby,” Irving said. “It’s about choosing what’s best for you. You think I really want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to give up my job? You think I really just want to sit at home and not go after the things with my teammates that I’ve been able to grow with, to learn with? … You think I want to give up my livelihood because of a mandate? Because I don’t have accommodations? Because I’m unvaccinated? Come on. I’m not going to be used as a person in this agenda.

“It’s not about the Nets. It’s not about the organization. It’s not about the NBA. It’s not politics. It’s not any one thing that I’m pinpointing. It’s just about the freedom of what I want to do.”

Before Wednesday, Irving had not spoken publicly since the Nets’ media day on Sept. 27. He repeatedly asked for privacy at the time when asked about his vaccination status and availability to play.

But Irving, who admitted to having previously said “some of the dumbest things in my life,” spoke out again on Wednesday, claiming to be “helping your fellow human beings understand that they have a choice.” He said he stood with the people who had lost their jobs to vaccine mandates while insisting he was “on both sides of all this.”