Vaccine refusal cost me $100 million, says NBA superstar
Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving says that he missed out on a four–year, $100 million extension to his contract last season due to his opposition to the Covid–19 vaccine.
Irving was forced to skip home games from the beginning of the 2021–22 season up until late March amid rules imposed in New York surrounding vaccine mandates, and said at a press event on Monday that he rejected a contract extension from the Nets because he said if felt like he was being handed a financial “ultimatum” to be vaccinated.
“I gave up four years, 100-and-something million deciding to be unvaccinated and that was the decision,” Irving told the media.
“[Get this] contract, get vaccinated or be unvaccinated and there’s a level of uncertainty of your future, whether you're going to be in this league, whether you're going to be on this team, so I had to deal with that real–life circumstance of losing my job for this decision.”
Irving added that he had hoped his contractual situation would be tied up in advance of the beginning of last season, but that the failure for both parties to come to an agreement proved to be a hindrance to his abilities to prepare for the campaign effectively.
“We were supposed to have all that figured out before training camp last year,” he explained.
“And it just didn't happen because of the status of me being vaccinated, unvaccinated. So, I understood their point and I just had to live with it. It was a tough pill to swallow, honestly.”
However, Sean Marks, the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets and the man with whom Irving’s representatives would have been negotiating, rejected suggestions that Irving was presented with any type of ultimatum.
"There's no ultimatum being given here,” Marks said.
“Again, it goes back to you want people who are reliable, people who are here, and accountable. All of us: staff, players, coaches, you name it. It's not giving somebody an ultimatum to get a vaccine. That's a completely personal choice. I stand by Kyrie. I think if he wants, he's made that choice. That's his prerogative completely.”
Marks, though, did admit that Irving’s vaccine stance impacted team affairs, and was a factor in their discussions for the future.
“So two summers ago, that was pre–citywide, statewide mandates that went in,” he said.
“So once the vaccine mandates came in, and we knew how that would affect [Irving] playing home games and so forth, that’s when contract talks stalled. So it didn't get to [a point], ‘Here's the deal, now take it back.’ That never happened.”
If I can work and be unvaccinated, then all of my brothers and sisters who are also unvaccinated should be able to do the same, without being discriminated against, vilified, or fired. ♾🤞🏾This enforced Vaccine/Pandemic is one the biggest violations of HUMAN RIGHTS in history.— Hélà (@KyrieIrving) September 20, 2022
Irving remains tied to the Nets for at least this upcoming season, and Marks added that he has no concerns about the player's commitment to the team.
“At the end of the day, we’re happy that Kyrie is back here,” Marks said.
“I’m listening to the press conference he had this morning and my takeaway from that is that he's committed. He understands that in order for him to be a free agent and get what he rightfully wants, he's going to have to show commitment out there. We're happy to support him in any possible way throughout the season to make sure that he's healthy and ready to go.”
And while Irving maintained that he fully understands the Nets' position, he added that he was unhappy with how he feels his vaccination status has let to him being stigmatized in the wider sports community.
“I understood all the Nets’ points,” he said. “And I respected it and I honored it, and I didn’t appreciate how me being vaccinated, all of a sudden, came to be a stigma within my career that I don't want to play, or I'm willing to give up everything to be a voice for the voiceless.
“And which I will stand on here and say that, that wasn't the only intent that I had, was to be the voice of the voiceless, it was to stand on something that was going to be bigger than myself.”