Kyrie Irving Leaving More Than $200 Million on the Table by Digging in Against Vaccination

Kyrie Irving stands to lose a boatload of money because of his insistence on not taking the COVID-19 vaccination. The Brooklyn Nets told Irving they would not welcome him to the team on a part-time basis. With New York City mandating vaccination for people using public gyms — including Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan — that renders Irving ineligible for 43 of the team’s 82 games.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association earlier agreed not to pay players for games in which they are ineligible, using 1/91.6 of a player’s salary as the baseline per game. Given Irving’s $34,916,200 salary for 2021–22, that is nearly $381,200 per game and almost $16.4 million for the 43 contests for which he’s currently not eligible to participate. But the lost dollars go beyond just that for the three-time All-NBA point guard.

Kyrie Irving is on the outside looking in at this point

Kyrie Irving was on the bench with the Brooklyn Nets for their preseason opener in LA, but won't be with the team until his vaccination status is resolved or New York City lifts its vaccine mandate
Kyrie Irving was on the bench with the Brooklyn Nets for their preseason opener in LA, but won’t be with the team until his vaccination status is resolved or New York City lifts its vaccine mandate. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets brain trust decided on Oct. 12 to essentially deactivate Kyrie Irving until his vaccination status changes or the city lifts the mandate. At least three players — superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden and the longest-tenured Net, Joe Harris — participated in the discussions.

Irving came to Brooklyn with Durant in July 2019 in the most significant free-agency period in franchise history. The Nets got Harden from the Houston Rockets in a January 2021 trade. Brooklyn is the oddsmakers’ choice to win the NBA championship, but a murky situation regarding Irving threatened to upset team preparation and chemistry.

By asking Irving to stay away, the team is down one of its Big Three stars but has clarity in setting up rotations and game plans. Coach Steve Nash said on Oct. 13 that it was a tough call, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Everyone had their say. It takes time to make decisions like that. This is a difficult decision. But I think it was a sound one and one that makes complete sense to everyone,” Nash said. “We are just going to move on, and if things change, it would be incredible to have him back in the fold. It was a tenuous situation to have a player in and out like that. There’s more clarity, and we can focus on the future and get going.”

While Irving is staring down the barrel of more than $16 million vanishing into thin air, the stakes are even higher than that.

The Brooklyn Nets won’t offer Irving a lucrative extension

Kyrie Irving is entering the third year of the four-year, $136.5 million contract he signed in 2019 and is eligible for up to a four-year extension worth $186 million.

He would have to exercise his player option for 2022–23 ($36.5 million) to get the extension. But that is now off the table, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Charania spoke recently on The Glue Guys podcast about the situation.

“He was willing to sacrifice, at the end of the day, $16 million in salary this upcoming year and $186 million, as far as an extension, that he will not be offered now,” Charania said.

That’s more than $200 million in lost income Irving is facing. But in comments he made on social media on Oct. 13, he’s aware of the stakes.

Kyrie Irving says he’s digging in for something bigger than money

During an Instagram Live post, Kyrie Irving addressed his standoff with the Brooklyn Nets. While he sounded regretful of the situation, he also made it clear he wasn’t budging on his stance, per NBA.com:

“I am doing what’s best for me. I know the consequences here, and if it means that I’m judged and demonized for that, that’s just what it is. That’s the role I play, but I never wanted to give up my passion, my love, my dream just over this mandate.

“It’s about choosing what’s best for you. You think I really want to lose money? You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship? You think I really just want to give up my job?”

Kyrie Irving

But Irving also made it clear his career is not over.

“No, I’m not retiring, and no, I’m not going and leaving this game like this,” Irving said. “There’s still so much more work to do, and they’re still so many other (youngsters) to inspire because I know they want to be better than me.”

Irving continues to insist he’s not anti-vaccine or anti-science. Charania speculated the Nets would listen to trade offers.

Ultimately, it didn’t have to come to this. Kyrie Irving chose this path, even though the consequences affect everyone in the Brooklyn Nets organization, not just him.

Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

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