Kyrie Irving, the N.B.A. star who has been indefinitely barred from practicing or playing with the Brooklyn Nets because of his refusal to get the Covid-19 vaccine, spoke out publicly on Wednesday night for the first time since the team decided to keep him off the court, saying his refusal was a matter of personal freedom.
“You think I really want to lose money?” Irving, who is set to make about $40 million this season, said on his Instagram feed in a meandering monologue that had incorrect medical information. More than 90 percent of players in the league are vaccinated, a proportion much higher than in the general population of the United States.
“You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship?” Irving, 29, said. “You think I really just want to give up my job? You think I really want to sit at home?”
On Tuesday, the Nets said they had barred Irving from playing until he becomes “eligible to be a full participant.” New York City requires most teenagers and adults to have at least one vaccination shot to enter facilities such as sports arenas, and Irving has not practiced with the Nets in Brooklyn. Irving joined the Nets in 2019 as they built a team of superstars that include Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Irving asked that his decision to remain unvaccinated be respected and said that he has no plans to retire. He couched his refusal to get vaccinated in his opposition to mandates, saying nobody should be “forced” to do it.
Irving falsely claimed his decision to remain unvaccinated does not harm other people. The highly contagious Delta variant has quickly spread in areas with low vaccination rates. And hospitals in those areas have been overrun with unvaccinated patients, leaving few beds and staff members to treat other patients.