With the start of the NBA season fast approaching, players and fans alike are preparing for a year in which arenas are expected to once again be full, and yet the NBA experienced an unexpected controversy as players reported to training camps.
While the league is not mandating that players receive the COVID vaccine, roughly 95% of NBA players are vaccinated, and the league is doing everything it can to push the other 5% towards vaccination. In response, multiple players — including some stars — pushed back when asked about the COVID vaccine.
A few players came out as either unvaccinated or unwilling to provide their status, while others outwardly supported and defended teammates and players around the league who are hesitant to receive the shot.
Let’s take a look at five NBA players who spoke their minds when pressed by reporters on vaccine statuses around the league.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Irving is the most well known star to be unvaccinated, and his decision is having major implications for his NBA career.
On Tuesday, the Nets announced that Irving will not be part of the organization “until he is eligible to be a full participant.”
“Given the evolving nature of the situation and after thorough deliberation, we have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant,” Nets GM Sean Marks said in a statement.
New York City requires professional athletes to show proof of at least one dose of the vaccine to play indoors, which makes Irving ineligible to play in Brooklyn’s 41 home games for the 2021-2022 regular season.
On Wednesday, Irving went on Instagram live to explain the decision behind being unvaccinated.
“What would you do if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you have exemptions or that you didn’t have to be forced to get the vaccine? This wasn’t an issue before the season started,” Irving said. “This wasn’t something that I foresaw coming where I prepared for it and had a chance to strategize on what was going to be best for me and my family.”
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Beal is a superstar, the second leading scorer of the 2020-2021 NBA season, and apparently not one to take things lying down.
Beal had a fascinating exchange with reporters after announcing that he has contracted COVID in the past and is unvaccinated.
“It’s a personal choice between everybody. 100%. I understand both sides of it,” Beal said. “I understand that there is a percentage of people who can get very sick. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t get sick at all. I lost my smell but that was it for me. Everybody is going to react different. Everybody is going to take it differently.”
“I mean, some people have bad reactions to the vaccine. Nobody likes to talk about that. What happens if one of our players gets the vaccine and they can’t play after that? Or they have complications after that? Because there are cases like that. But I feel like we don’t talk about those as heavily because they’re so minute, maybe? But they are existent,” Beal added.
Beal went on to discuss the vaccine, questioning why there are those that still test positive for COVID even after being vaccinated.
“Every player, every person in this world is going to make their own decision for themselves,” Beal said. “I would like an explanation to people with the vaccines … ‘why are they still getting COVID?’ If that’s something that we are supposed to highly be protected from. It’s funny that … ‘oh it reduces your chances of going to the hospital.’ It doesn’t eliminate anybody from getting COVID. Right?”
“Is everybody here vaxxed?” Beal asked the media in the room. “I would assume, right? So you all can still get COVID, right?”
“We’re less likely to die or go to the hospital,” a reporter in the crowd responded.
“Ok. But you can still get COVID, and you can still pass it along with the vax. Right?”
Beal does not play in a city that requires players to be vaccinated in order to play indoors.
Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors
For Wiggins, the decision on whether to take the shot or not has a real-life impact.
He plays in San Francisco, a city which currently does not permit an unvaccinated professional athlete to play indoors.
At his media day appearance, Wiggins grew testy with reporters who repeatedly asked him about his decision to remain unvaccinated and the reasoning behind it.
“It’s none of your business is what it comes down to,” Wiggins said on Monday when asked about his reasoning behind not getting the shot. “I don’t ask you guys what you think is right or wrong. We’re different people … Who are you guys where I have to explain what I believe? Or what’s right or what’s wrong in my mind. We’re two totally different people. What you think is not what I think. What I think is not what you think.”
Shortly after Wiggins’ exchange with the media, the NBA announced that any player who misses a game due to not being vaccinated will not be paid for the missed game.
The Warriors have 41 games at the Chase Center in San Francisco for the 2021-2022 season, meaning Wiggins potentially would essentially have forfeited half of his game checks if he remained unvaccinated.
The potential loss of money and not playing basketball during the upcoming season seemed to change Wiggins’ mind, as it was announced last week that he is now vaccinated and eligible to play in Warriors home games.
“The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA,” Wiggins said Monday. “It was a tough decision. Hopefully, it works out in the long run and in 10 years I’m still healthy.”
“They didn’t make the rule,” Wiggins said when asked if he was upset with the organization. “But I guess to do certain stuff, to work, I guess you don’t own your body. That’s what it comes down to. If you want to work in society today, then I guess they made the rules of what goes in your body and what you do. Hopefully, there’s a lot of people out there that are stronger than me and keep fighting, stand for what they believe, and hopefully, it works out for them.”
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Green is one of the unquestioned leaders of the Warriors and a three-time champion. Though he is vaccinated, the three-time all-star defended his teammates decision, saying that it wasn’t his place to tell anyone what to put in their bodies.
“That would be like me telling him, ‘Yo, your wife is going into labor. How dare you leave this team and not go tend to your wife?’” Green said. “That’s something that’s personal to him. That’s something that’s health-related. That’s something that’s personal to his family. This is no different. We’re dealing with something that to me feels like has turned into a political war when you’re talking about vaccinated [people] and non-vaccinated [people]. I think it’s become very political.”
Green said that it’s every individuals choice whether or not to get the vaccine, questioning why society is pushing the vaccine so hard.
“For someone who’s not extremely into politics, when you make something so political — not everyone is into politics — then you can also turn those people off,” Green continued. “There is something to be said for people concerns about something that’s being pressed so hard. Like ‘why are you pressing this so hard?’”
“You say we live in the land of the free. Well, you’re not giving anyone freedom because you’re making people do something essentially,” Green said later. “Without necessarily making them, you’re making them do something. That goes against everything that America stands for, or supposedly stands for.”
Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic
This is not the first time Isaac has been in the news for something other than his basketball talent.
During the 2020 NBA season in Orlando, Florida — after the George Floyd riots — NBA players knelt during the national anthem to protest what they viewed as racism and police brutality.
Isaac chose not to kneel for the anthem.
Now, Isaac is drawing attention for his decision to remain unvaccinated. At his team’s media day presser, Isaac explained his reasoning.
“I’ve had COVID in the past,” Isaac said. “Our understanding of antibodies, of natural immunity, has changed a great deal from the onset of the pandemic. And it’s still evolving. I understand that the vaccine would help if you catch COVID and you’d be able to have less symptoms from contracting it. But with me having COVID in the past and having antibodies, with my current age group and physical fitness level, it’s not necessarily a fear of mine. Taking the vaccine would decrease my chances of having a severe reaction, but it does open me up to albeit rare chance but the possibility of having an adverse reaction to the vaccine itself.”
“I don’t believe that being unvaccinated means being infected or being vaccinated means being uninfected. You can still catch COVID with or without the vaccine. I would say, the craziness of it all, in terms of not being able to say that it should be everybody’s fair choice without being demeaned or talked crazy to, doesn’t make one comfortable to do what said person is telling them to do. I would say that’s a couple of the reasons why I’m hesitant at this time.”
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
As the face of the league, James had yet to announce his vaccination status before Lakers media day. When asked in May if he was vaccinated, James declined to answer.
We got our answer last week, with James saying, “I know that I was very [skeptical] about it all, but after doing my research, and things of that nature, I felt like it was best suited for not only me, but for my family and for my friends, and that’s why I decided to do it.”
James was pressed by a reporter if the “issue was important enough” for someone with his platform to speak out, with James saying that it wasn’t his place to tell others what to do.
“We’re talking about individual’s bodies,” James said on Tuesday when elaborating on his decision. “We’re not talking about something that’s political or racism or police brutality or things of that nature. We’re talking about people’s bodies and well-being. So I don’t feel like for me personally that I should get involved in what other people should do for their bodies and their livelihoods.”
This article has been updated to include additional information.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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