At the beginning of this season, Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks declared their All-Star guard Kyrie Irving ineligible after he declined to take the Covid vaccine. A mandate to play indoor basketball in New York City. But after a significant number of players on Brooklyn’s roster became unavailable either because of injuries or COVID protocols, Nets officials decided they had no choice but to let Irving be a part-time player.
On Wednesday night, Kyrie stepped on an NBA court for the first time since Game 4 of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. He sustained an ankle injury in that game and was ruled out for the rest of the series.
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Kyrie Irving Opens Up About His Vaccine Status
Irving missed roughly three months of basketball after refusing to take the vaccine. As most expected to happen, he was asked about his vaccination status after his debut.
“I don’t want to make this simply about me and simply about someone lessening the rules for me. I know what the consequences were, I still know what they are,” Irving told reporters after the Nets win over the Pacers via SNY.
“But right now, I’m going to take things one day at a time like I said, and enjoy this time that I get to play with my guys. However it looks later in the season then we’ll address it then.”
Before getting up from the podium, Irving shared a laugh with the media when asked if that meant him getting vaccinated was still a possibility.
“Oh, come on, man,don’t hang onto me,” Irving joked.
Irving Grateful To Be Back With the Nets
Irving played 32 minutes in his season debut. He struggled in the 1st quarter, shooting just three shots and missing them all while turning the ball over twice. But by the end of the night, the Nets guard found his rhythm and ended up with 22 points on 52% shooting from the field. Kyrie looked as if he hadn’t missed a single game this season. Now that (some of) the smoke has cleared, Irving is just happy to be back doing what he loves.
“There’s a lot of gratitude just to be present tonight with everyone,” Irving said after the game per SNY.
“Just to go out there and have fun doing what we love to do. It was a not-so-good first half for us, and we came in the locker room, and we knew that in order to build this identity that we want to have later in the season we got to start now.”
Kevin Durant Sounds off on Kyrie’s Return
Irving’s teammate Kevin Durant had himself a big night as well, scoring 39 points along with 7 assists and 8 rebounds.
Durant has had to carry quite a load in Irving’s absence. For most games he has been the Nets sole source of offense. But that all changes with Kyrie on the floor. The two-time Finals MVP talked about how excited he is to have his co-star back.
“It was amazing to have him out there,” Durant said per SNY. “I just missed his presence around the locker room, his energy, his vibe around the team.”
“The crowd showed him so much love, teammates, just the game of basketball is happy to have him back.”
Steve Nash Says Kyrie ‘Looks Like Himself’
As far as the rest of the season goes, Kyrie’s playing time will be monitored as he looks to get back into playing condition. But head coach Steve Nash seems optimistic about his ability to play big minutes in the near future.
“He looks like himself. Not a big surprise watching him play in practice — he’s so gifted and talented and you could see the rhythm was there,” Nash said after the win per Yahoo.
“But it’s still an adaptation so we got to give him some space here as he transitions back to playing, but tonight he was big.”
The Nets will have to cut Kyrie’s welcome back party short, as their next two games are at home at Barclays Center where he is still ineligible to play. It starts with the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.