The vaccine mandate imposed by New York City has turned out to be extremely costly for one of the NBA’s best players, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.
He said Monday that he was given an ultimatum, get vaccinated with one of the experimental mRNA COVID-19 vaccines or forgo a contract extension worth more than $100 million.
If he chose to be unvaccinated, Irving said, he was told by management “there’s a level of uncertainty of your future, whether you’re going to be in this league, whether you’re going to be on this team.”
“So I had to deal with that real-life circumstance of losing my job for this decision,” he said, ESPN reported.
Irving, 30, admitted it “was a tough pill to swallow, honestly.”
“I didn’t appreciate how my being unvaccinated came to be a stigma within my career that I don’t want to play, or that I’m willing to give up everything to be a voice for the voiceless.”
Nets General Manager Sean Marks insisted Monday there was “no ultimatum being given here,” it simply was a matter of Irving’s “choice.”
“Again, it goes back to you want people who are reliable, people who are here, and accountable,” Marks said, noting the mandate also applies to Nets staff and coaches.
“It’s not giving somebody an ultimatum to get a vaccine,” he said. “That’s a completely personal choice. I stand by Kyrie. I think if he wants, he’s made that choice. That’s his prerogative completely.”
Irving has opted into the final year of his current contract, worth more than $36.5 million this season.
On Twitter last week, the NBA superstar spoke out against the continuation of mandates.
“If I can work and be unvaccinated, then all of my brothers and sisters who are also unvaccinated should be able to do the same, without being discriminated against, vilified, or fired,” he wrote. “This enforced Vaccine/Pandemic is one the biggest violations of HUMAN RIGHTS in history.”
Last fall, amid the controversy over Irving’s refusal to take a COVID-19 vaccine, a former NBA player said he had to quit the 2020 season early after he developed blood clots he attributed to a COVID shot.
At the time, the Nets were barring Irving from practicing or playing in games until he complied with New York City’s vaccine eligibility requirements.
He defended his decision in an Instagram Live video, declaring, “Nobody should be forced to do anything with their bodies.”