“Nobody’s going to hijack my voice,” Kyrie Irving said at the start of a 20-minute Instagram Live session on Wednesday (Oct. 13), a day after the Brooklyn Nets announced they would bench him for the season due to COVID-19 protocols. New York City instituted a mandate where anyone entering an indoor gym must have one COVID-19 vaccine shot, and Kyrie, 29, confirmed during his session he did not. “It’s reality that in order to be in New York City, in order to be on the team I have to be vaccinated,” he said. “I chose to be unvaccinated. And that was my choice. And I would ask y’all just to respect that choice.”
Kyrie Irving speaks pic.twitter.com/So7qwh1r2f
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) October 14, 2021
“I’m staying grounded in what I believe in,” Irving said (h/t New York Post). “It’s not about being anti-vax or about being on one side or the other. It’s about being true to what feels good for me. I’m still uncertain about a lot of things. And that’s OK. If I’m going to be demonized about having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, then that’s just what it is.”
“Don’t believe I’m retiring. Don’t believe that, you know, I’m gonna give up this game for a vaccine mandate, or staying unvaccinated,” he said. During the IG Live session, he said he didn’t “want to sit here and play on people’s emotions, either. Just use logic. What would you do if you felt uncomfortable going into the season when you were promised that you have exemptions or that you didn’t have to be forced to get the vaccine?”
“This wasn’t an issue before the season started,” he said. “This wasn’t something that I foresaw coming where I prepared for it and had a chance to strategize on what was going to be best for me and my family. I came into the season thinking I was just going to be able to play ball, just use my talent to continue to inspire [and] influence people in the right way.”
“I’m standing with all those that believe what is right. Everybody is entitled to do what they feel is what’s best for themselves. Seeing the way this is dividing our world up, it’s sad to see. People are losing jobs to mandates,” he said. Kyrie will not be paid for the games that he missed, and he stands to lose $15.5 million this season. Though he said during his IG session that he didn’t care about the money, he made it clear that this ban was taking a toll.
“Do you think I really want to give up my dream to go after a championship?” Irving asked. “Do you think I really just want to give up my job? You think I really just want to sit at home and not go after the things with my teammates that I’ve been able to grow with, to learn with?”
As of Wednesday, the death toll from COVID-19 had reached over 700,000 in the United States. The vaccines have proven largely successful in preventing deaths and hospitalizations.