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Nets’ Kyrie Irving ‘pinching’ self after vaccine exemption

MIAMI — Kyrie Irving, talking for the first time since the vaccine mandate exemption cleared the way for him to play at home, is excited over the prospect of finally suiting up for the Nets at Barclays Center. And now that he can, he hopes to sign a long-term extension so he can do it for years to come. 

“I think for me, it has always been about being comfortable, loving where I’m at, and I love it here,” said Irving, whose talks on a four-year, $186 million deal broke down when he refused to get vaccinated. The decision limited him to a road-only, part-time player. “Once that summertime hits, I know we’ll have some conversations. But there’s no way I can leave my man [Kevin Durant] anywhere. 

“And as we build, as you see me playing with some guys I’ve had some relationships with in the past, and this is the recipe for success — when you have guys that you’ve known for a while, young guys that are willing to listen, and then a front office that’s willing to do what’s necessary in order to build this thing for the long run. So that’s the mindset. And that’s where I’m at.” 

Durant had been left to carry an outsized burden because Irving had been ineligible to play at home. That is, until Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday announced Emergency Executive Order 62, which gave unvaccinated New York City athletes an exemption from the city’s private-sector COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Now, Irving is eyeing making his first home start of the season Sunday versus the Hornets. 

Kyrie Irving, who is unvaccinated, can now play home games after New York City lifted its mandate.
USA TODAY Sports

“Yes, yes, yes,” Irving repeated. “Please take my comment serious when I say I’ve been pinching myself since Wednesday and Thursday, because there was a time where I got my hopes really, really high and all the air was just let out. 

“It’s just a level of disappointment, and I didn’t want to get too excited. And still I’m trying to focus on this game. But I know [Sunday] will eventually come, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be playing back in Brooklyn.” 

Irving’s decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19 was divisive, with many calling him selfish while his supporters viewed him as standing up for his rights and the rights of others. 

After 1,430 city workers have been fired for refusing to adhere to the city’s vaccine mandates, Irving was asked if there was something he could do to help the teachers unions or firefighters, he said he will take “progressive action.” 

Kevin Durant (left) and Kyrie Irving (right).
Kevin Durant (left) and Kyrie Irving (right).
Getty Images

The Nets had fully expected Irving to get vaccinated before the season, the same way general manager Sean Marks had proclaimed “positive conversations” between the team and the All-Star point guard on a max extension. But after Irving stunned them by refusing to get vaccinated, talks stopped and the deal was off the table. 

Irving’s part-time status limited him to just 20 games entering the game Saturday against the first-place Heat. His weird in-out status likely contributed to the Nets being just 8-12 with him on the court before Saturday. 

It has played a huge role in the Nets being stuck in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and mired in a play-in spot. But Irving and his teammates are still confident they can win a title, either this year or even long-term if he signs on alongside Durant and Ben Simmons. 

Irving is eligible for a five-year $246 million contract if he declines his $36.5 million player option, something ESPN reported is expected. That would keep him under contract through 2026-27, a year past the end of Durant’s deal. 

“To be honest with you, I signed up for this for the long run,” Irving said. “So I love this year. I’m grateful. It hasn’t been a prototypical year. But when I look at my teammates and where we are as an organization, I’m looking for the long run and what we can do legacy talk. 

“We can talk again — judge my performance, judge everybody else’s performance, judge the league. But for me, and I know our team sentiment here and have something sustainable. Not just put this together real quick and see what happens. But we will do our best.”

via

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