With some NBA players unvaccinated against COVID-19, the looming season start may see star players absent due to city-enforced restrictions.
On Monday, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving tuned into his team’s media day virtually instead of in person and asked for privacy on his vaccination status. New York requires athletes playing in the city to get the shot.
Meanwhile, Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins also fielded questions following an attempt at obtaining a vaccination exemption, citing religious reasons, which was shot down by the league. The Thornhill, Ont., native said he intended to “keep fighting for what I believe is right.”
On the latest episode of CBC Sports video series Bring It In, Morgan Campbell is joined by Meghan McPeak and Corey Erdman to discuss how the vaccination status of certain NBA players could affect their teams ahead of the new campaign.
Should Wiggins remain unvaccinated, he’ll be unable to play in home games due to an order from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The same goes for Irving, who without the vaccine would miss at least 41 home games.
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Though ideally Irving would be on the court, McPeak points out that the team returns to waters that they’ve been in before — a lineup where the “Big Three” are never quite assembled — meaning a familiar position for head coach Steve Nash and Irving’s teammates.
“How many games did we see Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant actually play together last season? It was a handful prior to the playoffs beginning,” she said.
“The three of them have been in and out of the lineup so much with the Nets that that team and that coaching staff is used to it. The fan base is used to it.”
Campbell also noted that the stakes for Irving are different than for other players — his job isn’t going anywhere.
“Half a Kyrie Irving is still better than half of the league,” he said.
But Wiggins’ situation is more delicate.
“I think that this actually affects him more than it does Kyrie because of the situation he’s in — in fighting to continue to be on an NBA roster,” McPeak said.
While he isn’t actively fighting for a contract right now, McPeak said, delivering on the court is still of the utmost priority because “at the end of the day, he’s still fighting for his NBA career at this point.”
The vaccination ordeal comes as he sets himself up to have an impactful season — complementing Warriors stars Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and a still-to-return Klay Thompson — and put himself “back on the map in NBA fan bases,” McPeak said.
On a question of why some players weren’t seeing the virus as a safety issue on the job, Erdman replied that leagues had been positioning it that way. But a turning point, he said, may have been when links were drawn online between vaccination status and the drive to win a championship, referencing comments from Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think that probably spoke to a segment of people that might have been hesitant otherwise, but they said, ‘hey, nothing to me is more important than winning these games,'” he said.
Data card controversy
The panel also touched on controversy from last week’s Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays series.
Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier was seen scooping up Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk’s data card, which contains sensitive strategic information, after it had been dropped by Kirk following a play at home plate.
Kiermaier and the Rays refused to return the card to the Blue Jays dugout.
In retaliation, Kiermaier was hit by a pitch during his last at-bat of the series a few days later, courtesy of Toronto reliever Ryan Borucki.
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