NBA commissioner Adam Silver: NYC COVID-19 vaccination rule keeping Kyrie Irving from playing at ...

ByAndrew Lopez ESPN logo
Thursday, February 17, 2022

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the New York City vaccination mandate preventing Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving from playing in home games "doesn't quite make sense to me," speaking during an appearance Wednesday morning on ESPN's Get Up.

As a player unvaccinated against COVID-19, Irving isn't allowed to play at the Barclays Center because of the mandate. However, a player from a different market who is unvaccinated may play in New York City.

"This law in New York, the oddity of it to me is that it only applies to home players," Silver said. "I think if ultimately that rule is about protecting people who are in the arena, it just doesn't quite make sense to me that an away player who is unvaccinated can play in Barclays but the home player can't. To me that's a reason they should take a look at that ordinance."

Silver said the league wanted to make vaccinations a requirement for players but the National Basketball Players Association pushed back. Still, he mentioned having 97% to 98% of players vaccinated and a "vast majority" boosted.

With the NBA offices in New York City, Silver has seen firsthand some of the masking restrictions being lifted, and he mentioned that there's a different "feel" in the city and that more people are out and about.

"So while, again, my personal view is people should get vaccinated and boosted, I can imagine a scenario where Brooklyn, as part of New York City, with a new mayor now who wasn't in place, Eric Adams, when that original ordinance was put into place, I could see him deciding to change along the way and say it's no longer necessary to have a mandatory vaccination requirement, as I said, particularly one that only affects home players," Silver said.

At a news conference Wednesday, Adams said the rule keeping Irving from playing is unfair, but he also said he's hesitant right now to change anything.

"First of all I think the rule's unfair. I believe that we are saying to out-of-town athletes that they can come in and not be vaccinated. Yet New York athletes, you have to be vaccinated. And they also do this for entertainers. I want people to know that. Entertainers can come here without being vaccinated and perform. I think it's unfair," he said.

"And I'm not sure if a Boston fan created this rule. I don't know. But I am really, really leery about sending the wrong message. Having this city close down again keeps me up at night. And the message we put in place, the rule was put in place. To start changing it now, I think it would send mixed messages. So I'm struggling with this, just to be honest with you."

Nets coach Steve Nash said before Wednesday's game against theKnicksthat the organization is 'hopeful' there will be a change in the mandate.

"Obviously we're hopeful, but it's really out of our hands," Nash said. "We just have to be patient and hope that [the] oddity of it prevails in a sense, but that's not in my job description to write the city or the state mandates, so I think we are hopeful and we're patient and we'll wait for hopefully the best outcome but whatever outcome it is is out of our hands."

While talking to reporters in Miami this past Saturday, Irving expressed hope that the mandate would get overturned, allowing him to play in home games.

"There's no guilt that I feel," Irving said. "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. But because I'm there we have Eric Adams, we have the New York mandate, we have things going on that are real-life circumstances that are not just affecting me, bro. 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 that missed these last two years. I didn't have a plan in place while all this was going on, didn't know. The NBA and the NBPA made it very clear that there would be things that I would be able to do to work around this. And that's off the table. So you tell me if I'm just alone out here or do I have support from everybody else that's dealing with the same thing?"

Irving's comments came two days after the blockbuster trade that sent James Harden from the Nets to Philadelphia and brought Ben Simmons to Brooklyn in a trade that played out publicly in terms of demands.

Silver said he hopes situations like this don't play out in public that way, but acknowledged that they will occur.

"Ideally, when players want to get traded or teams are preparing to make moves those are conversations they have confidentially with players, they have confidentially with other teams," Silver said. "Obviously, in this case it not only played out publicly but it's been playing out since the season even began, particularly with Philly."

Asked what the data showed on the impact superstar movement has had on NBA fans, Silver said viewpoints have changed over the years.

"I remember David Stern's sort of standard mantra was he would say 'Larry' and you'd say 'Boston,' you'd say 'Magic,' you'd say 'Michael' and you'd say 'Bulls,' but that was a different time," Silver said. "Now what we're seeing in the league, first of all, shorter contracts, which I don't think is a bad idea because one of the things we tried to do working with our players' association back beginning around 10 years ago was tie performance to pay in a closer way, and I think that's what you see with shorter contracts."

While the league didn't mind shorter contracts, there is one thing Silver doesn't want to see.

"The data shows that superstars moving isn't necessarily a bad thing because it allows bad situations to, in an orderly way, to change," Silver said. "It gives teams that may not be in a competitive position hope that they can sign one of those players, but shorter contracts to me is something very different, and free agents moving at the end of contracts is different, than what we just saw where you have players actively seeking to move while they're under contract. The data is clear on that: That's not good for the league."

ESPN's Nick Friedell contributed to this report.

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