Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving outlasted several vaccine mandates in order to play in the 2021-22 NBA season.
The missed games over being unvaccinated did come at a cost, which Irving defined as stunted team chemistry.
Appearing on Kevin Durant’s podcast for a post-season interview, Irving reflected on the tumultuous year that saw the All-Star guard temporarily banned from the NBA over his decision to remain unvaccinated.
Though Irving was glad to eventually return to action, he never felt in his element all season.
“I never felt like I was back,” Irving told Durant.
A decision by New York City and Nets leadership — co-owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks — sidelined Kyrie for roughly three months. Irving also lost tens of millions in pay over the missed time.
At the start of 2022, rolled-back restrictions allowed Kyrie to return only for away games to start. Once Mayor Eric Adams waived the vaccine rule for NYC’s performers and athletes, Irving was allowed to resume at full speed in March.
A month later, he was facing the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the playoffs. Irving was still up for the challenge.
“There was nothing to lose, you know?” Irving mentioned. “It was only the journey to enjoy at that point, because I was sitting at home and — I don’t even want to say sitting at home, I was wondering at home what my future was going to look like, you know?
“Whether I was going to be traded, whether I was going to be released, whether I was going to get the opportunity to be on another team, how I was going to spin this for myself in a positive way.”
Kyrie’s debut was impressive on its own: averaging 24.5 points and 5.4 assists in January, which gradually improved as the season went on. He ended the year averaging 30.0 points and 6.4 assists.
But the lack of time spent building chemistry with his teammates contributed to the 0-4 postseason sweep that befell the Nets.
Irving admitted in the interview that Nets leadership appeared without a plan once the player was allowed to return.
“I had the opportunity to play away games still, but there was no plan in place,” Kyrie said, “there was no vision of how it’s going to work for our team. And I think that really impacted not just me, but a lot of people. So [I] just had to sit; sit in that hot seat for a little bit and deal with it.”
The 30-year-old has been optimistic about reaching a long-term deal with the Nets this offseason and getting a full year in with Durant and Ben Simmons for a potential championship run in 2023.
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