All season long, the Brooklyn Nets and Kyrie Irving have been hopeful that New York City’s vaccine mandates would eventually be lifted, and the All-Star guard would be cleared to play in home games. Now, the time has finally arrived. Irving will likely make his home debut this season on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets after mayor Eric Adams lifted the vaccine mandate for athletes and performers.
Irving, who has played in just 20 games this season and remains unvaccinated against COVID-19, declined to speak to reporters on Friday after practice, so we still haven’t heard his thoughts on the matter. Kevin Durant, though, was excited to have his running mate back on a full-time basis, and ready to put the past few months behind them.
“It’s a long time coming,” Durant said. “It’s an exciting time for Brooklyn Nets fans and New York fans to see one of our own back on the floor at home. It means a lot to our team, happy to have him back, and look forward to finishing the season strong. I’m glad this is all behind us.”
Back in March, Adams lifted New York City’s public vaccine and mask mandates, but a private sector mandate remained in place. That meant if you worked for a New York-based business, you had to be vaccinated. That created a bizarre situation in which Irving could attend Nets home games at Barclays Center without a mask, but was not allowed to play. Earlier this week, Adams announced that athletes and performers would now be exempt from the mandates.
“This is about putting New York city-based performers on a level playing field,” Adams said. “Day 1 when I was mayor, I looked at the rule that stated hometown players had an unfair disadvantage for those who were coming to visit. And immediately I felt we needed to look at that, but my medical professionals said, ‘Eric, we’re at a different place. We have to wait until we’re at a place where we’re at a low area and we can reexamine some of the mandates.’ We’re here today.”
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It’s worth noting that Adams changed course shortly ahead of Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. The New York Yankees and New York Mets have quite a bit of sway in the city, and Durant was thankful for any influence they may have had in the decision.
“There’s no crying over spilled milk. It is what it is,” Durant said of the way things have played out this season. “But I’m not naive to the fact that the Mets and the Yankees, they have a lot of power in our city. I’m sure once they all helped and had conversations with whoever they needed to talk to, it was able to push it over the top. So sports is a huge factor in a lot of these major cities and I’m glad we can get things done for everybody to move forward. I know New York City fans are excited about it.”
Irving’s impending return to full-time status comes at a crucial juncture for the Nets. With just eight games remaining in the regular season, they are 38-35 and stuck in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They may not have time to jump into the top-six, but they will now have Irving for any play-in game at home. Likewise, assuming they get out of the play-in tournament, they’ll have Irving for all playoff games instead of just those played on the road. That, of course, significantly increases their chances of winning the East.