It seems that Kyrie Irving has, at least in part, won his COVID-19 vaccine holdout with the Brooklyn Nets.
Irving, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, has started the process to rejoin the team for the first time this season.
It’s unclear when Irving will make his season debut, but the team has opted to bring him back on a part-time basis. Irving is not currently allowed to play games in New York due to the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, so he will just be allowed to participate in away games for the Nets. This means that Irving is almost certainly still unvaccinated.
ESPN Sources: With the unfolding circumstances of Brooklyn’s season – including injuries, Covid losses and an inordinate minutes load on their superstar players – the Nets are bringing back All-Star guard Kyrie Irving as a part-time player for games outside of New York.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 17, 2021
The Nets had previously said they wouldn't allow Irving to compete part-time. It’s unclear when he will officially join the team.
The Nets confirmed the reports in a statement on Friday night.
"After discussions with our coaches players and staff, the organization has decided to have Kyrie Irving rejoin the team for games and practices in which he is eligible to participate," the team said, via The Athletic's Shams Charania. "We arrived at this decision with the full support of our players and after careful consideration of our current circumstances, including players missing games due to injuries and health and safety protocols.
"We believe that the addition of Kyrie will not only make us a better team but allow us to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster. We look forward to Kyrie's return to the lineup, as well as getting our entire roster back on the court."
Kyrie Irving’s long COVID vaccine holdout
Irving has not played this season with the Nets due to New York’s mandate that requires athletes playing in indoor arenas to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Nets star still hasn’t made it clear why he won’t get vaccinated, something that has been going on for months now. He did say that he wants to be a “voice for the voiceless” for those who have lost their jobs due to vaccine mandates. Outside of that very broad reasoning, however, Irving has kept quiet.
New York mayor-elect Eric Adams has said that he doesn’t intend to end the mandate when he takes office on Jan. 1, either.
At the beginning of the season, the Nets decided they didn’t want Irving to be just a part-time player. He had to be in completely, or not at all.
Now, though, that thinking has clearly changed.
At 21-8, the Nets have the best record in the Eastern Conference. The team is now down seven players, including James Harden, to health and safety protocols, however.
While Irving can certainly help his shorthanded team, he will be at a much higher risk of contracting the coronavirus while doing so — especially as several teams across the league are dealing with similar outbreaks. And, as he’s still unvaccinated, he’d be required to miss more time than his unvaccinated counterparts.
The Nets are two games into a five-game homestand and will host the Orlando Magic on Saturday night. Their next road trip will start in Portland next Thursday before a Christmas Day game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena and then against the Clippers two days later.
It’s plausible that Irving will make his debut either in Portland or Los Angeles next week, though he is expected to take his time and must pass multiple coronavirus tests before he's allowed to do so. Irving will have to test negative five straight days before he can join the team, and then will have to get tested every day.