Kyrie Irving appears set to play home games in New York again, with mayor expected to lift athletes’ vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is expected to lift a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for performers and professional athletes in the city Thursday, a source familiar with the plan told CNN.

The policy has kept Irving, a seven-time All-Star guard who has chosen not to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, from playing in the 35 home games the Nets have played since the NBA season began in October.

The Nets initially also kept Irving from road games, but relented in December. A change now would free Irving to play not just the Nets’ three remaining regular season road contests, but also the team’s six remaining home games as the club jockeys for playoff position.

Adams is expected to make the announcement at the New York Mets’ Citi Field on Thursday morning, the source said. The announcement would come ahead of the start of Major League Baseball’s season, allowing unvaccinated Mets and Yankees players to play home games as well.

New York on March 7 lifted its mask mandate for indoor activities. But its policy requiring all workers who perform in-person work or interact with the public to show proof of having received at least one dose of the vaccine remained.

The city already had allowed an exception for non-New York City resident entertainers and professional athletes.
Irving has been able to attend Barclays Center games as a spectator, yet his presence in the home locker room at a game earlier this month saw the Nets hit with a $50,000 fine for “violating local New York City law and league health and safety protocols.”
Irving’s pending return to home games comes amid a crucial pre-playoff stretch. The Nets currently have the NBA Eastern Conference’s eighth-best record, three wins behind the sixth spot that would guarantee a regular playoff seed.
If they finish anywhere from seventh to 10th, the Nets would be in a four-team play-in tournament to determine the clubs that would fill the conference’s seventh and eighth playoff seeds.
The expected announcement served as a 30th birthday present for Irving, who on Wednesday night surged to 43 points in a loss on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Irving arrived at his post-game press conference requesting that no reporter quiz him on the mandate until an official announcement, but was subsequently left irritated as he was asked about it.

“So you didn’t hear me walk in?” Irving replied. “You didn’t hear my statement when I walked in? Don’t put me in a position until anything is official.”

The conference ended in smiles when Irving, later asked about the potential “domino effect” of the policy change on the team, said that he “could not wait” to talk to reporters once an official announcement was made.

“That’s got to be the greatest birthday gift ever,” someone could be heard saying, to which Irving replied, “I appreciate that,” before smiling and walking away, with laughs audible in the background.

With a game on the road to come at the Miami Heat on Saturday, the Nets’ next home game is against the Charlotte Hornets the following evening.

Rule under scrutiny

The policy had attracted increasing criticism from some affiliated with the NBA this month, as other Covid-19 rules around the country receded.

The executive director of the players union called for the policy to end.

“The nonsensical ordinance that singles out our own New York City players is fundamentally unfair,” the executive director, Tamika Tremaglio, wrote on social media. “Under this current rule, out-of-town athletes can come into the city and not be vaccinated, and fans can enter both the Barclays Center and (Madison Square Garden) regardless of vaccination status.”

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, a former teammate of Irving, said on social media it made “absolutely zero sense” the Nets guard was able to attend the game as a fan but not join the team as a player.
Irving defended his decision to not get vaccinated in October, saying in an Instagram Live video that “nobody should be forced to do anything with their bodies,” adding that his decision was not politically motivated.

He is in his third year of a four-year, $136 million contract signed with the Nets in 2019.

Adams’ announcement would be the latest in a string of decisions relaxing Covid-19 measures. The mayor indicated on Tuesday that he would lift the mask mandates around April 4 in schools and daycare settings for children from 2 to 4 years old, an age group that does not currently have a vaccine available, “if the numbers continue to show a low level of risk.”

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