Kyrie Irving is neither a victim nor a hero

OPINION: The Brooklyn Nets guard is just a selfish and irresponsible teammate who’s supremely talented. He could’ve avoided all the drama by getting vaccinated, just like 97 percent of fellow NBA players.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Conflicted feelings are a part of life, and two of my extreme cases involve sports.

I root for the hometown New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys in football, which is crazy because they’re division rivals who play twice a year and potentially can meet a third time in the playoffs. But I was a child when those allegiances formed, not understanding the dilemma they’d create. 

Regarding basketball, I’m torn in a way that fellow Brooklyn native Spike Lee is not. Any team that reps my beloved borough is automatically my team, too—even if the Brooklyn Nets didn’t arrive until 2012. Yet, there’s no way to forsake a lifelong love affair with the New York Knicks. 

As long as they play other teams, no problem. But when they face-off, it’s a no-win situation. I feel like Richard Williams watching Venus and Serena play against each other, unable to fully rejoice in either child’s success. When forced to endure inevitable matchups of Giants vs. Cowboys, or Knicks vs. Nets, I simply assume the fetal position and wait for the pain to end. 

Which brings us to Kyrie Irving and the coronavirus vaccination.

The Nets fan in me is ecstatic that Mayor Eric Adams lifted the vaccine mandate for athletes and performers based in New York City. Irving, arguably among the NBA’s top five guards, missed the Nets’ first 35 home games because he refused to get vaccinated. Putting him on the court with Kevin Durant, perhaps the league’s best player, gives Brooklyn a potent duo that could lead to a championship. 

Either way, Irving’s wizardry with a basketball is spellbinding entertainment for hoops fans. 

On the other hand, I hate that some observers paint this as a victory for Irving, who presented himself as a martyr. As a believer that everyone should take the vax, I kind of wish the mandate stayed in place. Now “Uncle Drew” is free to roll up and rescue the Nets as they struggle to improve their playoff position. 

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on January 5, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

But he’s not a victim, and he’s not a hero.

He’s just a selfish and irresponsible teammate who’s supremely talented.

Irving could’ve avoided this drama by getting jabbed, like everyone else on the Nets and 97 percent of fellow NBA players. He can’t blame the city mandate for causing him to sit out all those games. It was his choice, not someone’s else action. Rules for playing were established, and he opted not to follow them.

I suspect some of you might be anti-vaxers, too, despite numerous studies on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Maybe you decided to quit—i.e., be fired—because the boss said the vax was mandatory, and you declined. Adams is facing heat from public employees in that category, upset that they face termination while unvaccinated athletes and performers can return to work. 

Police union president Patrick Lynch called the mandate “arbitrary and capricious,” while a teachers’ union spokeswoman said the city “shouldn’t create exceptions to its vaccination requirements without compelling reason.” Another police union official, Lou Turco, said, “it’s hypocritical to allow an athlete to not get vaccinated while forcing police officers to get vaccinated to keep their jobs.”

I get it. The standards can be confusing and downright ridiculous. It never made sense that unvaccinated NBA players could compete in Brooklyn while Irving couldn’t. Even with loosened restrictions, some of New York’s major performing arts organizations—like Broadway theaters and the Metropolitan Opera—say they’ll continue to require vaccinations for city-based performers. Also, the city’s private-sector mandate remains in place for businesses outside of sports and entertainment. 

If officials truly are following the science and not just the money, they should show their work.

Nevertheless, I don’t sympathize with anti-vaxxers who lose their job unless they have a legitimate medical reason (extremely rare) for their stance. Imagine the toll if the masses rejected vaccines for smallpox and polio. Yes, you have the right free to refuse.

And society has the right to exclude—whether it’s you from the workplace or your kid from the classroom.

Irving was excluded from playing at Barclays Center, and that sucked. Wishing that he wasn’t meant I wished he took the needle; it didn’t mean I wished the mandate were nonexistent. Now that he’s back, the Nets are better, and I’m happy about that. 

Still want him to get vaccinated, though. Only then would conflicting feelings disappear, and he’d be a true hero. 

For Team Vax, not Brooklyn.

An award-winning columnist and a principal of BlackDoor Ventures, Inc., Deron Snyder is a veteran journalist, stratcomm professional, author, and adjunct professor. A native of Brooklyn and an Alpha from H.U.-You Know, he resides in metropolitan DC with his wife, Vanessa, mother of their daughters, Sierra and Sequoia. To learn more, please visit blackdoorventures.com/deron.

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