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The owner of the Brooklyn Nets unsurprisingly wants Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated, but seems to understand the decision is out of his hands.
Joseph Tsai, the billionaire who purchased a controlling stake of the Nets in 2019, addressed his point guard's refusal to get vaccinated and the resulting fallout in an interview with ESPN. He didn't seem confident minds will be changed anytime soon.
"I don't know," Tsai said in a sit-down interview with ESPN when asked when he thinks Irving will play again. "Either he has to be vaccinated in order to come back if the New York mandate is still in place. And don't ask me when they may or may not change the New York mandate. Again, if you ask the people that are making decisions at the city level, they are going to say we are going to rely on science, rely on what the health department tells us [in order to proceed]."
The Nets have announced that Irving will not play for the team until his vaccine situation is resolved. That basically means he's waiting for one of two things: a) Irving getting vaccinated or b) New York loosens its vaccine mandate to allow unvaccinated players in the city to take part in home games again.
Irving is technically allowed to play road games and practice for the Nets, but general manager Sean Marks has made clear that the team doesn't want a part-time player. So Irving has been away from the team since then, and Tsai says he hasn't talked to the player at all in that time.
"Last time [I] talked to him was when we made the decision that he was not going to be playing until something changes," said Tsai, who owns the team with his wife Clara Wu Tsai. "We haven't communicated since then."
Added Tsai: "Obviously Kyrie has his own belief so I respect that. But we have to make a team decision. This is not a decision about him. This is a decision about where we go as a team. And it is just not tenable for us to have a team with a player that comes in and out, no home games, only away games. What do you do in practice then?
"This week we have a whole stretch of six home games, so we won't have Kyrie. So it became pretty clear to us. We are very much aligned among myself, [GM] Sean [Marks], coaching staff that this has to be [the decision], especially since we're a team with pretty lofty aspirations. We don't see any other way of running this team."
Irving, no stranger to controversy in his career, has limited his messaging to cryptic social media posts and an Instagram Live session in which he tried to explain his viewpoint as not anti-vaccine, but anti-vaccine mandate. His camp has used reporters to push the idea that he is trying to be "a voice for the voiceless," though the people he's supposedly supported definitely seem to have a voice.
They were heard last weekend when a large group of anti-vaccine mandate protesters descended on Barclays Center before the Nets home opener and disrupted operations enough that the arena had to be briefly locked down.
"I just think that it's cavalier for people to hijack something like this when life and death is at stake," Tsai said. "People shouldn't make it into a political issue. So when you see protestors, they're definitely making a political statement. These guys are not basketball fans. They could care less whether someone is on the court playing or not.
"They're hijacking the issue, but it's dangerous because we have a life and death situation. The fact is, if you are not vaccinated and you catch COVID, you have a much higher probability of getting very, very sick and end up in the ICU and possibly die. That's the consequence."