Wynton Jackson | Staff Writer
Despite having the first in-person NBA Media Day since 2019, not all teams felt the cheer and optimism the event normally brings.
This year, the usual superstar gossip was headlined by Ben Simmons’ refusal to return to the 76ers – but there was also a more severe issue: COVID-19 vaccination.
Though there is no mandate, the league has a 95 percent vaccination rate, according to NBA.com. While the unvaccinated in most cities are still cleared to play, New York City and San Francisco passed laws stating that they cannot participate in home games.
Two teams affected, the Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets, both had high-profile players resisting the shot.
The NBA also said players would not be paid for games missed due to the vaccine. For unvaccinated players in Brooklyn or San Francisco, that would be 41 games without pay, plus any postseason appearances.
Among the slew of players who announced their stance on Media Day, Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins surprised audiences. Wiggins, known for his carefree attitude, gave a no-nonsense news conference.
“I’m gonna keep that all private right now,” Wiggins told NBA media members about his vaccination status.
He proceeded to answer each question concerning the vaccine with a similar response.
The forward’s calm demeanor may have thrown reporters off as they kept pressing him about the shot. One journalist mentioned the potential monetary consequences he would suffer, to which Wiggins responded, “It’s my problem, not yours,” in a matter-of-fact tone that quieted the room.
Oct. 5, before the Warriors’ first preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Wiggins announced that he had received the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA,” Wiggins told reporters after their 121-107 victory.
Whereas Wiggins is rarely in the news, Nets superstar Kyrie Irving is no stranger to public scrutiny. Irving shook the NBA when he arrived late and on a Zoom call to Media Day.
Irving refused to expand on his stance against the vaccine, citing privacy as the main reason. He confirmed that he had not taken the vaccine and was not allowed into the building. However, even with questions not directly tied to his vaccination status, he remained guarded.
When ESPN’s Malika Andrews asked if he expected to play in home games, Irving said: “Again, I would like to keep all of that private. Please, just respect my privacy.”
Irving’s defiance could have devastating consequences for the Nets’ postseason aspirations. Without Irving, they would be limited to the big two: James Harden and Kevin Durant. Although they are both top 10 players in the league, losing Irving for home games will significantly lower their chances of winning the title.
The annual general manager survey revealed that the Nets received 72 percent of the votes for winning the NBA Finals this year, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers at 17 percent, according to NBA.com.
The media has come to expect stances like this from Irving. He pledged his loyalty to the Boston Celtics before demanding a trade. He recently tried to convince players not to enter the NBA Bubble in the wake of the George Floyd murder, even though he wasn’t playing.
“I expect us to have our whole team, at some point,” Durant told NBA reporters in response to questions surrounding Irving’s status. However, if he refuses the vaccine, the Nets may be forced to trade him to another team.
That move would have to be approved by Durant, as the two friends joined Brooklyn together in the summer of 2019.
Students around the Hampton University campus have mixed feelings about the situation. First-year student Donovin Cooper, an aspiring sports agent, believes athletes should be vaccinated but not forced to take it.
“The United States is built on freedom, and when you’re forcing somebody to do something, you are forcing them against their will,” Cooper said. “And you are holding their money hostage in the process.”
Avid basketball consumer and prospective sports journalist Raymond Beasley had this to say about vaccinations.
“I don’t think they should be forced, but assuming that everybody is vaccinated, then [docking pay] is appropriate,” Beasley said. “In order to play and not jeopardize a team, player, season, or game, you have to get vaccinated, although the decision is up to them.”
From an athlete’s perspective, Hampton soccer player Ryan Lynch supported the NBA’s decision to pressure non-vaccinated performers.
“As an athlete, I think athletes should get vaccinated,” Lynch said. “It helps to protect themselves, and they are role models to many people. NBA players carry a lot of influence, so I believe they should get the vaccine so their followers can be encouraged to get it.”
When asked whether players need to take the vaccine even though they are not at significant risk of death, Lynch argued that “it’s better to be safe than sorry, no matter how healthy you are.”
With cities considering following New York and San Francisco’s lead, the NBA may be without some of its premier talents for the October 19 tipoff.