Kyrie Irving Says Nets Didn't Have Vaccine Mandate Plan: 'Life of a Martyr'

Adam WellsMay 5, 2022

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Kyrie Irving of Brooklyn Nets warms up before NBA playoffs between Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn of New York City, United States on April 25, 2022. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is once again blaming the Brooklyn Nets for him not being able to play games early in the season due to New York City's vaccine mandate. 

Appearing on The ETCs podcast with Eddie Gonzalez (h/t SNY.tv), Irving said the Nets had "no plan, no vision" for him to play in road games when he was ineligible to play in New York City because of his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"Life of a martyr, bro," he added. 

Irving has consistently been defensive when discussing his vaccination status. He told a reporter on Feb. 12, after the Nets' 11th straight loss overall, he didn't feel any guilt about being a part-time player:

"Play your media games with somebody else, bro; please. I understand that there's a lot going on in the world. And I'm here as a human being just like you, bro. Please respect my boundaries, man. That's all I'm asking. There's no guilt that I feel. I'm the only player that has to deal with this in New York City because I play there. If I was anywhere else in another city, then it probably wouldn't be the same circumstances. … So, you ask me these questions. I don't feel guilt. I'm just living my life as best I can just like everybody else amidst these last two years."

The Nets announced on Oct. 12 that Irving would be away from the team until he was able to fully participate. 

"He has a choice to make, and he made his choice," Nets general manager Sean Marks told reporters. "Again, my job here is to make what we deem as the best decision and best choices for the organization moving ahead as a whole. They're not always ones that are going to be met with open arms and a thumbs-up. These are hard decisions. Just like I'm sure it wasn't easy for Kyrie either to have to make that [decision] to not be around his teammates."

Irving would have been eligible to play in most markets—with the exception of New York City, Toronto and San Francisco—at the start of the season as an unvaccinated player. 

After getting off to a slow start and experiencing a number of injuries and players in health and safety protocols, the Nets announced on Dec. 17 they would bring back Irving as a part-time player. 

Per ESPN's Brian Windhorst (h/t NBC Sports' Dan Feldman), the Nets' "star players, in particular" made it known they wanted Irving back even before their roster was depleted. 

Irving eventually made his season debut on Jan. 5, scoring 22 points in a 129-121 victory over the Indiana Pacers. He played only in road games until New York City mayor Eric Adams announced on March 24 the vaccine mandate for large events was being lifted. 

A March 27 game against the Charlotte Hornets was Irving's first game at Barclays Center this season. The seven-time All-Star appeared in each of the final 10 games in the regular season. 

The Nets were an inconsistent team all season because of injuries and roster turnover. Ben Simmons was unable to appear in a game after being acquired on Feb. 10 in the James Harden trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Brooklyn finished the regular season with a 44-38 record. It earned the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the play-in tournament, but it was swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics. 

Irving finished the season averaging 27.4 points, 5.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in 29 starts.