More than three weeks into the NBA season, Brooklyn Nets superstar point guard Kyrie Irving has yet to rejoin his team in protest of New York City's vaccine mandates, which preclude him from playing NBA basketball within the five boroughs.
However, New York City elected a new mayor this week. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has indicated that the city's existing vaccine mandate might be altered when his administration takes over.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday morning that Adams' recent comments have given the Nets and Irving's camp "some hope" that changes to the mandate might allow the seven-time All-Star to return to his team this winter.
“Eric Adams, the Mayor-Elect of New York City, talked today about revisiting possibly January 1 when he takes over, the city’s vaccine mandates for government workers," Wojnarowski told Mike Greenberg. "And there’s some hope, some optimism, including, I’m told, around Kyrie Irving, that revisiting may also include performers and athletes including Kyrie Irving.”
Wojnarowski cautioned, however, that if Irving remains unvaccinated, he might not be a Net by January. Currently, New York City and San Francisco are the only NBA cities with vaccine mandates which have precluded unvaccinated players from appearing in home games; the local mandates do not apply to teams in other cities, meaning Irving would be eligible to play if he's traded elsewhere.
"The Brooklyn Nets, they have been getting calls about Kyrie Irving, about their interest in discussing trades with them," Wojnarowski reported. "So how does this fit into the Nets timetable if Kyrie is going to wait into January to see what happens with the new mayor of New York City, how does that affect how the Nets move forward? There's a lot to watch here, Greenie."
Mayor-Elect Adams has pledged not to undercut outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio's municipal vaccine mandate, which applies only to city workers, but he suggested he might negotiate with city workers' unions to resolve ongoing disputes with some employees if there are still vaccine holdouts by the time he takes office. He did not explicitly discuss the venue rule, which is keeping Irving off the court.
Of greater consequence to Irving's situation, however, is the status of the COVID infection rate, which has been steadily declining this fall. More significant progress against the virus would likely prompt Gov. Kathy Hochul to rescind vaccine mandates statewide. In an appearance Tuesday at Barclays Center, Gov. Hochul said there's no "magic number" that would prompt that decision.
New York City was for several frightening weeks in 2020 an epicenter for COVID-19. Many local hospitals functioned as gigantic COVID wards. A field hospital was set up on Central Park's East Meadow to provide even more beds.
Since New York City's vaccine mandate for public workers went into effect, the vaccination rate among city employees surged above 90 percent in most departments.
A few thousand still-unvaccinated city workers were placed on unpaid leave this past Monday. They will be eligible to return to work once they get inoculated.