Civil rights activist and NBA icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is making a mistake with his refusal so far to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Irving's stance is in opposition with New York City's mandate for vaccination of workers at local entertainment venues and sports arenas, thereby sidelining him from all the Nets home games this season. Although league rules technically allow Irving to join the team for road games, the Nets are not allowing him to rejoin the team on a part-time basis.
The Athletic since reported that Irving is sitting out in protest of vaccine mandates, though he's not anti-vaccine. The point guard is also due to make more than $17 million in salary whether or not he plays this season.
Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, says the 29-year-old isn't understanding the greater good vaccination serves.
"People are getting sick and dying from this [disease] and having to spend a long time in the hospital near-death," Abdul-Jabbar told CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. "This isn't a joke. Being on the fence about it, going back and forth, is not helping.
"If he's making $17 million while he's doing this, God bless him. But getting our community protected is the key issue here, and that's what I want to focus on."
COVID-19 has been particularly devastating in black and brown communities around the country, especially in New York, where black and LatinX people are more than twice as likely to die of COVID than white people.
Abdul-Jabbar has also criticized vaccinated NBA players (95 percent of players in the league) for supporting the idea that getting the shot is merely a "personal choice." None of Irving's teammates have publicly criticized his decision.
"It doesn't matter who you are. You are at the same risk as everyone else," Abdul-Jabbar told Blitzer. "You should be treated and be expected to comply with safety measures that protect all of us."
The Basketball Hall of Famer added that people of Irving's status, with enormous social followings, "have a responsibility greater than just the average citizen."
"[Irving's] stance on this is backwards. He has to understand that. He has to be a good teammate. What he's doing is making him a bad teammate; it is making him someone that doesn't care about the other guys. If you bring the COVID virus into an environment where people get sick, people can get sick and die. We have to recognize that and act accordingly, like we have some sense."