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Nets' Kevin Durant on Kyrie Irving: 'Not About to Force Somebody to Get a Vaccine'

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 8, 2022

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant said he's held conversations with teammate Kyrie Irving about the importance of becoming a full-time player but noted there's limits to those type of discussions centered around the COVID-19 vaccine.

Irving, who's unvaccinated, remains ineligible to play in the Nets' home games and select road games because of a vaccine mandate for large-scale events in New York City, which is one of several cities with such requirements. Durant told reporters after Friday's 121-109 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks it would provide a boost if the guard was available every night:

"I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play—play every game. But I'm not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that's not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I'm not about to do that.
"We've had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that's on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he's going to make. It's on us to be professionals no matter what, and do our jobs. All of us—from the owner down to the equipment manager—so whenever he ready, he'll be ready."

Irving made his season debut in Wednesday night's road game against the Indiana Pacers after the organization reversed a prior decision to hold him out until he was eligible for a full-time role. He tallied 22 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals in a 129-121 win.

The seven-time All-Star addressed his situation after the contest:

"I'm just taking it one day at a time. Like I said earlier in the season, it's not an ideal situation and I'm always praying that things get figured out and we're able to come to some collective agreement whether it be with the league or just things that are going on that can help kind of ease what we're all dealing with, with COVID and the vaccine. I think everybody's feeling it. So, I don't want to make it simply about me and simply about someone lessening the rules for me. I know what the consequences were, I still know what they are. But right now, I'm just going to take it one day at at time and just enjoy this time that I get to play with my guys. However it looks later in the season then we'll address it then."

He couldn't play Friday as the Nets returned home to face the Bucks, though.

Irving will remain sidelined for Sunday's home clash against the San Antonio Spurs, but he'll then be eligible for six of the team's next eight games as Brooklyn goes through a road-heavy stretch.

James Harden, the other member of the Nets' Big Three, said after Friday's game they're used to playing without the 29-year-old Duke product and will simply use it as a boost when he's available:

"It wasn't strange, nah. It felt good honestly to have him back. It felt good. It felt like an extra life that we had. But we got to live with what we're dealt with and that's home games we got to figure ways [to win]. And even road games—just 'cause Ky's on the road with us don't mean he's going to be easy for us as well. So we got to mesh and we got to find ways to win games ... every time we step on the floor teams are going at us, they feel like they got something to prove and we got to know that. And we got to bring that same mentality towards them."

Irving has maintained throughout the process that he's not anti-vaccine, but rather made the medical decision he felt was better for himself.

"Once again, I'm going to repeat this. This is not about the Nets, this is not about the organization, it's not about the NBA, it's not politics," he said in October. "It's not any one thing. It's just about the freedom of what I want to do."

The Nets are on cruise control toward the playoffs with a 24-13 record, the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference. In turn, the guard's status shouldn't be a major hurdle to overcome for the remainder of the regular season.

His situation will become a bigger story if the postseason nears and the New York City mandate remains in place, though. That could put Brooklyn in a difficult spot as it attempts to chase down a championship.

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