The NBA’s Vaccine Conundrum: Sensible Questions, Flawed Conclusions, and Flat-out Selfishness by a Few Star Players

Brookyn Nets Kyrie Irving. Image: Steven Ryan/Getty Images

NBA players have an impressive track record when it comes to providing a voice to the voiceless and being champions for the overlooked, ignored, and often ostracized among us. But what we’re seeing now from a small but vocal minority of NBA players who have pushed back consistently against being vaccinated, is a shift from sensible questions, to seriously flawed conclusions, to flat-out selfishness.

Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving is the most high-profile NBA player whose position against being vaccinated is clear. It could result in him missing several games this season which hurts a Brooklyn Nets team that’s the odds-on favorite for many to win the franchise’s first-ever NBA title this season.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an executive order last month which requires all athletes in New York City who practice or play indoors to show proof of having taken at least one vaccine shot.

The impact on Irving has already been apparent on a more low-key level, with the seven-time All-Star speaking to reporters remotely during Monday’s Media Day as opposed to being in-person, like the rest of his teammates. When asked if not being in-person at Media Day was related to not being vaccine-compliant, Irving responded, “I like to keep that stuff private. I’m a human being first. Obviously living in this public sphere, it’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie. I think I just would love to just keep that private, handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with the plan.”

Unless that plan involves getting the vaccine, it’s impossible to keep private if the Nets are playing home games and he’s not available to play.

Irving, known at times for his contrarian view of things, has been just that when it comes to vaccines designed to help treat and limit the spread, infection and hospitalization associated with Covid-19 and the Delta Variant. Irving draws most of the headlines when it comes to NBA players who have yet to be vaccinated, but he is not alone with about 10 percent of the league not fully vaccinated.

Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal, who missed out on the 2021 Olympics after having had to enter health and safety protocols in July because of Covid, is not vaccinated but appears to be softening his stance.

“I’m still considering getting the vaccine, so one thing I want to make clear is that I’m not sitting up here advocating that you shouldn’t get the vaccine,” Beal told reporters. “I’m not sitting here saying I won’t get it.”

But Beal, one of the best scorers in the NBA, is missing the point. His reluctance says a lot— more than he knows frankly. It’s not like picking the paint color or interior inside a new Porsche, a decision that only matters or impacts you. This virus does not discriminate based on wealth, social class or profession. It is a killer in every sense of the word.

And while one of Beal’s primary criticisms centered around those who are vaccinated still having the potential to test positive for the virus, again, he misses the point. The vaccines were never billed as a cure for Covid.

What they are designed to do, is lessen the potential side effects that someone experiences if they test positive for the virus, and thus cut down on potential hospitalization and most importantly, increase one’s chances of survival.

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart was somewhat skeptical about getting the vaccine before eventually deciding to do it. “It’s tough being told what you can and can’t do with your own body,” Smart said. “I chose to get vaccinated because, quite frankly, I didn’t feel like dealing with the BS that was revolving around it. That was my decision. I stand by anybody who makes their own decision to feel what they feel best for themselves. He added, “I didn’t feel like causing my team any disparity when it comes to me not being available (to play in games). I respect everyone’s decision, pro or against.” But ultimately, Smart decided to put the team ahead of his own concerns and apprehensions about the vaccine.

And for those still on the fence, that is what’s missing in their reasoning for being so hesitant. This decision process (or indecision depending on how you look at it) has been about them, and them only. Not their families. Not their friends.

And certainly not their teammates, many of whom have been adversely impacted by Covid-19 whether it be them directly contracting the virus or in the case of Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, losing several loved ones due to Covid-19 complications.

Players don’t win championships in the NBA; teams do.

And if this virus is to be defeated, it has to be an all-hands-on-deck operation—NBA players included.

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