Kyrie Cleared To Play Home Games After Mayor Adams Exempts Athletes From Vaccine Mandate

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets and other unvaccinated athletes can participate in home games in New York City, Mayor Eric Adams announced Thursday. Irving could be on the court in Brooklyn as soon as Sunday, playing in the Nets’ next home game against the Charlotte Hornets.

Adams, who spoke at a news conference at Citi Field in Queens, said the athletes and other performers in the private sector have been exempted from the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Unvaccinated players from the New York Knicks, New York Mets, New York Yankees and other sports teams also are cleared to participate in home games. The 2022 MLB season starts April 7.

Irving, 30, has been vocal about his decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, and due to the local workplace vaccine mandate had not been allowed to participate in the team’s games in New York City, both at the Net’s home, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, while unvaccinated visiting players were allowed to play.

Earlier this month, the NBA fined the Brooklyn Nets $50,000 for allowing Irving into the team’s locker room during a game on March 13. The league announced the penalty the next day, as the move violated the then-active local laws as well as the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

This announcement from Adams comes just days after he announced that he was lifting the school mask mandate for children under the age of 5. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transmission in New York is currently low, meaning widespread mask use is not necessary.

The NBA and NBA Players Association released a joint statement shortly after Adams’ announcement:

“The NBA and NBPA have achieved a 97% vaccination and 75% booster rate among players, required both for league staff, team staff, and referees, and will continue to be strong advocates for vaccination and boosters. With today’s announcement, we support the Mayor’s determination that the old rules treating hometown and visiting players differently no longer made sense, particularly because unvaccinated NBA players will continue to test daily. We applaud the Mayor for listening to the concerns of our New York teams, players, fans and communities and for leveling the playing field for home teams and their opponents.” 

United Federation of Teachers and other unions blasted Adams’ decision for giving athletes a pass

While this move pleased many sports fans, not everyone in New York City was happy about the announcement. The move immediately brought backlash from labor unions, after Adams said the city is not currently considering changing rules for city workers.

New York City’s teachers’ union wants to open discussions with Mayor Eric Adams about allowing their unvaccinated members to work — one month after 900 education department employees were fired for not getting their shots.

The United Federation of Teachers, or the UFT, issued a statement on how vaccines remain a “critical tool” against COVID, and “the city should not create exceptions to its vaccination requirements without compelling reasons.”

“If the rules are going to be suspended, particularly for people of influence, then the UFT and other city unions are ready to discuss how exceptions could be applied to city workers,” the union said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Other unions blasted Adams’ decision for giving athletes a pass but not doing the same for public employees, including the union representing police officers and Harry Nespoli, the chair of the Municipal Labor Committee.

Irving has played in 20 games for the Nets this season (all on the road), and has averaged 28.5 points, 55.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Brooklyn is 38-35 and eighth in the East, 2.5 games behind the seventh-place Toronto Raptors. If the season ended today, it would have to visit the Raptors for the first play-in game. Toronto is the one NBA city where Irving remains ineligible to play.