Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 3, 2021

New ultimatum puts NBA vaccine skeptics at a major crossroads

By JOSH FELTON | October 2, 2021

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RENE SCHWIETZKE/CC BY 2.0

Citywide mandates put vaccine skeptics in a serious predicament: either take the COVID-19 shot or opt to reject the vaccine and miss games.

With less than one month until tipoff of the 2021-22 NBA season, teams have recently started training camp and are preparing for the following eight months of basketball. To nobody’s surprise, the most frequent question posed during this week’s media day has been about vaccine status. This is the first season that the vaccine has been readily available to the public.

According to the league, 90% of NBA players have been vaccinated; however, a notable bunch of star players have either denied being vaccinated or dodged questions about the subject altogether due to their skepticism of the vaccine’s effectiveness and contents. Headlining those skeptics are Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets and Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors.

When asked by the media about his vaccination status, Irving declined to divulge much information. 

“I’d like to keep [my vaccination status] private,” he said. “I’m a human being first, and obviously living in this public sphere there’s a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie... and I would like to keep that private.”

In Wiggins’ media day interview, he echoed the same thoughts, opting to keep his vaccination status private. 

“I’m just going to keep fighting for what I believe is right,” Wiggins said. “What’s right to one person isn’t right to the other.”

In New York, anyone age 12 or older will not be able to enter Madison Square Garden or Barclays Center, home of the Nets, or any indoor fitness center without proof of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In San Francisco, where the Warriors play, proof of full vaccination is required.

These latest citywide mandates put Irving and Wiggins in a serious predicament: either take the COVID-19 shot or opt to reject the vaccine and miss at least half the season. Both of their respective teams have championship aspirations. According to CBS Sports, the Nets enter this season as co-favorites to win the championship, followed by the Warriors with the third-best odds. 

Currently all coaches, staff, referees and arena officials are mandated to be vaccinated. The players are not mandated because an agreement with the Players Association has not been reached. It’s likely the Players Association will not agree on a mandate considering Irving is the vice president.

Out of all the professional leagues in America, NBA players have the most leverage over their particular situations. As the rules state currently, Irving cannot play home games at the Barclays Center; however, visiting players who are unvaccinated can. This is a potential loophole that vaccine skeptics could use to protest the mandates. Considering the current state of affairs, one could expect this issue to be mentioned soon.

Recently the NBA denied Wiggins’ request to be exempt from the vaccine for religious reasons. Both Wiggins and Irving are integral pieces to their teams, so it comes as no surprise that reports have emerged that the Nets and Warriors have entertained trade requests for both players. According to Fox Sports 1’s Nick Wright, Irving would retire if traded by the Nets.

The NBA stated that many other cities may follow the lead of San Francisco and New York, putting increasing pressure on vaccine critics in the NBA to get vaccinated. Perhaps in the coming months, vaccine mandates for visiting teams will only complicate matters.

Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal also revealed in his media session that he’s unvaccinated. 

“You can’t necessarily force anybody or say it’s time for a vaccine,” he said. 

Beal acknowledged that despite overcoming COVID-19 before, he is still susceptible to the virus. Beal hasn’t rejected the idea of getting the vaccine altogether, but like many other skeptics in the league currently, he might not have a choice very soon.

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