On October 19, the new season of the NBA, the most important basketball championship in the world, will begin in the United States. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, league executives have imposed vaccination requirements on coaches, staff members, sports facility personnel, referees and all people who may come into contact with players. However, the same obligation has not been imposed on the players, some of whom have chosen not to get vaccinated or not to say publicly if they have been vaccinated or not.
It is a subject that is being discussed a lot and that seems to cause major problems in the coming months, also because the cities of New York and San Francisco, home to three important championship teams (Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors) , have imposed a ban on access to public places for non-vaccinated people over 12 years old: an obligation that for the games played in the home arenas will not only concern the public, but also the players.
One of those who could be excluded from home games is Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets, one of the best known and strongest players in the league, who in the past had spoken out against coronavirus vaccines. His eventual absence from home games is even more significant because the Nets are considered among the favorite teams to win the championship – by many the main favorite – being able to count not only on Irving, but also on Kevin Durant and James Harden.
On Monday 27 September, during the Nets “media day” organized at the Barclays Center (an annual event that precedes the start of the season, in which the whole team meets reporters), Irving was not there. He was only connected by videoconference. Irving did not want to say publicly if his absence was due to the lack of the vaccine, but given his previous positions on the matter it seemed clear to many present that the reason was that.
This belief was reinforced by the latest statements from the player’s aunt, Tyki, who had told the magazine Rolling Stone that his grandson had not been vaccinated for “moral” reasons, and not religious ones as some had hypothesized: for about a year Irving in fact converted to Islam, a religion among whose faithful a certain skepticism towards vaccines has been circulating for some time, for fear that they may contain pork derivatives, an animal prohibited by Muslims.
During the press conference on Monday, Irving did not say whether he will be vaccinated by the start of the season: if he does not, he will have to skip the games played in New York and San Francisco.
In recent weeks, Irving, as vice president of the executive committee of the players’ union, the NBPA, had been putting a lot of pressure on the league not to introduce a general requirement for all players. Recently, he writes Rolling Stone, he had started following an account on Instagram that supports a conspiracy thesis according to which vaccines are part of an unspecified “plan of Satan” to subdue mankind. However, it is not the first time that Irving supports conspiracy theories or unscientific theses: a few years ago he declared, for example, that he believed that the Earth was flat.
Among the players who said they were not vaccinated was Andrew Wiggins, who plays the role of small forward with the Golden State Warriors. Wiggins had asked the league for an exemption for religious reasons, which was however denied him. He did not want to specify which religious beliefs prevent him from getting vaccinated, but said he will continue to refuse the vaccine and “fight” for what he believes.
Another player who said he didn’t get vaccinated was Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic, who said the scientists who developed the vaccines are “just people” and “you can’t totally trust people.”
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards guard, said instead that he had not vaccinated “for personal reasons”, arguing that, having already got sick with COVID-19 in the past, he would have the necessary antibodies to avoid a new infection and that the vaccine would be superfluous. Both Isaac and Beal, under the current rules, could easily play most of the games of the season except those in New York and San Francisco.
On the topic of vaccines in the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also spoke, one of the strongest basketball players ever, who over the years became very well known even outside the world of fans for his great social commitment. TO Rolling Stone he said the NBA should insist on vaccinating all players and staff members, and that those who do not vaccinate should be excluded from teams:
«There is no room for players who want to risk the health and life of their teammates, staff and the public simply because they are unable to grasp the gravity of the situation or to do the necessary research. What I find particularly hypocritical about vaccine deniers is their arrogance in disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet if their child was sick or if they themselves needed emergency medical care, how little would it take them to do exactly what those same experts told them to do? ‘
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