In some instances, vaccinated staffers say they’re concerned about the health risks of being exposed to unvaccinated players. In others, staffers say they’re upset that players aren’t facing the same vaccine requirements as most team staff and referees. In still others, there’s animosity toward the league itself for not imposing such a mandate.
Though roughly 90% of NBA players are vaccinated as training camp approaches Tuesday, tension exists between those around the league mandated to be vaccinated and the nearly 40 unvaccinated players, league sources told ESPN.
One vaccinated Western Conference strength and conditioning coach said they're concerned about a potential breakthrough case that could affect family members. "For me, it's a problem because my parents are very sick, and I'm in close contact with these guys and I would hate to bring this home and my parents pass away from it," the coach told ESPN.
Health and safety protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players have not yet been finalized, league sources said. But it's expected, as ESPN previously reported, that unvaccinated players will face more testing and be asked to sit in separate areas of team meetings, team meals, locker rooms, on the team plane and bus.
But a second league source also tied to training staffs noted that many peers "believe the league is prioritizing the athletes' lives over their own. On the opposite side, some members don't want to force anyone to vaccinate if they feel uncomfortable with it, but it should be a standard set across the board instead of the league one way and the players the other."
NBA insiders say they’re not aware of any games being missed because of a reaction to the vaccine. Beal, though, did miss time. His case of COVID cost him a spot in the Olympics and the chance to compete for a gold medal.
There’s still time. The Warriors’ regular-season home opener is three weeks from Thursday and it’ll take two weeks from a Johnson & Johnson shot (the one he’d be offered, per sources) to be fully vaccinated. So Oct. 7 is the consequential date. He is eligible to practice this week and appear in the first four preseason games, since the San Francisco rule doesn’t enact until Oct. 13.
Irving couldn’t participate in the on-site media day festivities, and league sources believe Irving will wind up taking the vaccine, citing influence from his close friend and teammate Kevin Durant. “That doesn’t mean that I’m putting any limits on the future of me being able to join the team,” Irving said later.
According to Rolling Stone, Isaac was “studying Black history and watching Donald Trump’s press conferences” to inform his vaccine stance. (Former President Donald J. Trump was vaccinated in January, but states that he won in the 2020 election have much lower vaccination rates than those that favored President Biden.) On Monday, Isaac disputed the magazine’s characterization of him. “I’m not anti-vax. I’m not anti-medicine. I’m not anti-science. I didn’t come to my current vaccination status by studying Black history or watching Donald Trump press conferences,” Isaac said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for every health care worker and person in Orlando and all across the world that have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.”
Evan Barnes: Desmond Bane had no problem getting vaccinated against Covid-19 since he grew up getting vaccines for other viruses. “Whatever happens down the road, I’ll be fine knowing that I was one of those people that was at least trying to save the other people”
CJ McCollum: I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of the fact that 90% of the league is vaccinated. Happy Monday.
Dieter Kurtenbach: Nemanja Bjelica to Andrew Wiggins in the hallway: “Get the shot." Wiggins: Tough crowd in there, man.
Monte Poole: 'I know. And it's my problem, not yours.' Warriors F Andrew Wiggins, reminded that being unvaccinated could cost him millions in salary.
Quinton Mayo: Yes I had it, and I can get it again. There is still a possibility vaccinated or not. - Bradley Beal
Quinton Mayo: I don't think it will be. We're going to play basketball and do that at the highest level. We have protocols and things in place to make sure we're taken care of and tested regularly. - Bradley Beal on his vaccination status being a distraction
Ben Rohrbach: Bradley Beal on his bout with COVID-19, which cost him the Olympics: "I didn’t get sick at all. I lost my smell. That’s it.” Beal adds that no one will talk about adverse reactions to the vaccine and how it impacts player health. No NBA player has missed time due to the vaccine.
Quinton Mayo: Certain things in health should be personal. Especially us as athletes and the platform we have. I believe certain things should always be kept in house. - Kyle Kuzma on reasons why he doesn't want to share his vaccination status
Quinton Mayo: At the end of the day nobody really knows how things are going to go. America doesn't know. - Kyle Kuzma on vaccination and how it impacts the NBA
Connor Letourneau: Steve Kerr on potentially missing a player for a stretch due to his vaccination status: "We'll just see how everything plays out. We're hopeful that it all is resolved over the next couple of weeks. We're going into camp tomorrow with a plan to have everyone on the floor."
Chris Herrington: Ja Morant shares that he is vaccinated. (As did Desmond Bane earlier.) "I got vaccinated early. ... I have a baby girl. I travel a lot. I can't bring COVID back to her."
Duvalier Johnson: JaMychal Green on vaccination status:”Everybody is grown, it’s they own decision.” He went on to say he is fully vaccinated and he hopes that everyone jumps on board. pic.twitter.com/2yLEusYUQa
Ohm Youngmisuk: Kyrie Irving joins Nets media day remotely. On if he expects to be compliant with vaccination to play: “I would love to keep that private and handle that the right way with my team. Obviously I’m not able to be present there today.” He adds he’s not putting limits for future. pic.twitter.com/00fYCtBcNR
Jeff Zillgitt: Reporter tries to get more info from Kyrie Irving on vaccine/possibly not being available for home games per New York City ordinance: "Please respect my privacy. Next question."
Jeff Zillgitt: Kyrie Irving gets another question about being available at Nets home games: "Everything will be released at a due date once we get this cleared up." Continued to ask for privacy on the vaccine/availability topic.
Ohm Youngmisuk: Kyrie Irving said he doesn't want to be a distraction to the Nets' pursuit of a title. "This is the last thing I wanted to create, more distractions."
Gina Mizell: Doc declines to share exactly how many Sixers players are vaccinated, but emphasizes "It's not a concern for us. We are very, very, very good."
Malika Andrews: Blake Griffin, who has done PSAs encouraging COVID-19 vaccines, tells ESPN he did his own research early on and felt comfortable getting vaccinated. He said it’s an individual decision, but added he believes it’s an integral part of moving forward. Science agrees.
Anthony Slater: The expectation is that Andrew Wiggins will attend Media Day, practice in training camp and appear in the Warriors’ first four preseason games, even while the vaccine situation gets sorted out. SF’s rule doesn’t enact until Oct. 13. theathletic.com/2845066/2021/0…
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: If individual athletes can’t muster the courage to do the right thing, then the NBA and every other league governing body must step in and mandate vaccinations for players, coaches, and staff in order to protect the team, the fans, and the community. Players are free to choose not to get vaccinated, but they should have the courage of their moral convictions to sit out the season, sustained in the righteousness of their choice. They’ve already proven they are not team players.
Adam Zagoria: James Harden on Kyrie not being here: "I’ll let you guys listen to what he has to say about that. Obviously Ky is a huge part of what we’re trying to do."
Kristian Winfield: Kevin Durant says he’s not concerned about Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status. “We trust in Kyrie and I expect us to have our whole team at some point.”
Ben Rohrbach: Kevin Durant on Kyrie Irving’s availability: "I expect it not to be [an issue]. That's on Kyrie and that's his personal decision. … We trust in Kyrie. I expect us to have our whole team at some point."
Ian Begley: Kyrie Irving will not be at Media Day in Brooklyn today, sources confirm. NYC mandate states that all Knicks/Nets need to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to practice/play home games in NYC. Nets training camp is in San Diego. Irving may talk to media via Zoom. ESPN first reported.
Brian Lewis: According to NY rules, Kyrie Irving can’t play or practice at home until he gets a vaccination shot. Kevin Durant: “We trust in Kyrie and I expect us to have our whole team at some point.” #Nets #NBA
Nets Daily: Kevin Durant mood changes noticeably when discussing LaMarcus Aldridge after talking about Kyrie Irving. Upbeat vs guarded.
Shams Charania: Nets’ Kyrie Irving will not be at Media Day today in Brooklyn due to health and safety protocols, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.
Zach Lowe: Kyrie Irving is not expected to attend Nets media day today due to New York City health and safety protocols but the Nets fully expect Irving to accompany the team to training camp in San Diego, sources tell @WindhorstESPN and I.
Ira Winderman: Just arrived to FTX Arena for Heat media day. Have been told privately that Heat "do not expect any issues" regarding vaccination status of players. Told it is covered and "taken care of." NBA has severe, strict protocols for players not vaccinated.
Kellan olson: Devin Booker on his Twitch stream (http://twitch.tv/dbook ) confirms he has COVID-19. Said it has been about a week and he'll be back in no time. He said he's straight right now and the worst part is no taste and smell. He did not want to say if he has been vaccinated or not.
“There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way,” Kyrie’s aunt, Tyki Irving, told Rolling Stone. “It could be like every third game. So it still gives you a full season of being interactive and being on the court, but with the limitations that they’re, of course, oppressing upon you. There can be some sort of formula where the NBA and the players can come to some sort of agreement.” Tyki Irving runs the seven-time All-Star’s family foundation and is one of the few people in his regular circle of advisors. A spokeswoman for Irving declined to respond to Rolling Stone’s questions regarding his vaccination and playing status. Irving also did not immediately respond to a message from Rolling Stone.
Jonathan Isaac: Misrepresentation only allows for others to attack straw men, and not reason with the true ideas and heart of their fellow man. It helps no one! True journalism is dying! I believe it is your God given right to decide if taking the vaccine is right for you! Period! More to follow
“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells Rolling Stone. “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research. What I find especially disingenuous about the vaccine deniers is their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet, if their child was sick or they themselves needed emergency medical treatment, how quickly would they do exactly what those same experts told them to do?”
Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.” This Moderna microchip misinformation campaign has spread across multiple NBA locker rooms and group chats, according to several of the dozen-plus current players, Hall-of-Famers, league executives, arena workers and virologists interviewed for this story over the past week.
When asked directly about Irving’s vaccination status — or his plans to change it — multiple people familiar with his thinking declined to answer directly. But one confidant and family member floated to Rolling Stone the idea of anti-vaxx players skipping home games to dodge the New York City ordinance… or at least threatening to protest them, until the NBA changes its ways.
“There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way,” says Kyrie’s aunt, Tyki Irving, who runs the seven-time All-Star’s family foundation and is one of the few people in his regular circle of advisors. “It could be like every third game. So it still gives you a full season of being interactive and being on the court, but with the limitations that they’re, of course, oppressing upon you. There can be some sort of formula where the NBA and the players can come to some sort of agreement.”
A spokeswoman for Irving declined to respond to a list of questions regarding his vaccination and playing status, and Irving did not immediately respond to a message from Rolling Stone. But as teams return to pre-season training camps next week, fifty to sixty NBA players have yet to receive a single vaccine dose, league sources tell RS. Most are considered merely reluctant skeptics. Some of the holdouts, however, amount to their own shadow roster of anti-vaxxers mounting a behind-the-scenes resistance to Covid protocols — and the truth.
Isaac considers un-vaxxed players to be vilified and bullied, and he thinks “it’s an injustice” to automatically make heroes out of vaccinated celebrities. He rejects the NBA’s proposal for a vaccine mandate and social distancing for players like him during team travel: “You can play on the same court. We can touch the same ball. We can bump chests. We can do all those things on the court. And then when it comes to being on the bus, we have to be in different parts of the bus? To me, it doesn’t seem logically consistent. “If you are vaccinated, in other places you still have to wear the mask regardless. It’s like, ‘OK, then what is the mask necessarily for?’” Isaac continues. “And if Kyrie says that from his position of his executive power in the NBPA, then kudos to him.”
Enes Kanter — the veteran center, devout Muslim and outspoken liberal — senses a creep of the religious right upon his workplace, which just happens to involve players like Isaac sweating all over him and yelling in his face: “If a guy’s not getting vaccinated because of his religion, I feel like we are in a time where the religion and science has to go to together,” he tells RS. “I’ve talked to a lot of religious guys — I’m like: ‘It saves people’s lives, so what is more important than that?’”
Confusion and concern has been rampant this week among the Warriors’ organization as disparate situations played out with Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga, who were both thought to have refused the vaccination against coronavirus with less than a handful of days before training camp opens. Just as San Francisco clarified its rules Friday, it became increasingly clear that Wiggins is still unvaccinated and won’t be allowed into Chase Center for games, while Kuminga is at the very least in the process of being vaccinated.
The Chronicle learned this week that the team is also concerned about the vaccination status of Kuminga. Earlier this week, a league source said that Kuminga, the seventh pick in this year’s NBA draft, was not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.
However, in a text thread with The Chronicle, Kuminga indicated he was at least on his way to becoming vaccinated. He first said he wanted to check to see if he needed to get another shot before the start of the season, then said a second shot would come Oct. 22. Finally, the rookie forward said: “I’m vaccinated, man.”
Sean Cunningham: Andrew Wiggins request for religious exemption from COVID-19 vaccination denied by the NBA. League statement below. pic.twitter.com/kXFGXiS8hy
October 27, 2021 | 2:40 am EDT Update
When asked specifically if this is one of those games where Simmons’ absence is felt, Rivers quickly dismissed that thought. “I don’t worry about that,” he quickly said. “Ben’s not here, so yeah. If we would’ve won the game, so, no. I don’t do that.”
Tom Orsborn: Lonnie wants to see the ball in Dejounte’s hands at the end of games. So what does Dejounte think? “Pop is the coach. They’ll figure it out, whether it’s me or the next guy. We want to win games, so that’s that.”