For Irving, no regrets, no second guesses on eve of playoffs

NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving cost millions of dollars in salary. He may have cost the Brooklyn Nets any realistic chance of winning the NBA title.

His decision not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus put him at the center of the debate and left him unable to play in New York for most of the season. Irving was criticized for being stubborn and selfish, for thinking only of the individual in a sport that is all about the team.

Earlier in the season, some of the comments he heard bothered him.

Now it’s the postseason and Irving has no doubts.

“So I can’t address everyone, but as we go down the road, I know I made the right decision for myself,” Irving said Friday.

Critics would say that every decision Irving makes is about him. His off-the-court choices meant he wasn’t available to help share the scoring pressure with his close friend Kevin Durant. He wasn’t around to show a championship commitment to James Harden, which may have contributed to the All-Star guard deciding his future wasn’t in Brooklyn.

Irving pays no more attention to those voices than to those who still want to pause in his turbulent moment in Boston, where the Nets play Game 1 of their first-round series on Sunday.

“I can truly say that I stuck to what I believed in, what I wanted to do with my body. I think it shouldn’t just be an American right, I think it should be a human right,” Irving said. “And when you stand up for something like that, in the nature of the society that we’re in where we have way more followers than leaders, then you’re going to be forced to be seen or someone as a black sheep that people can attack and clickbait on your behalf and say these things that don’t really describe who you are or how you live on a day-to-day basis.”

The No. 7-seeded Nets would likely be on their home court, rather than starting against the No. 2 seed if they had Irving all season. But he played in just 29 games, just a handful at home in the final days of the season after an exemption to New York City’s vaccine mandate made him eligible.

By then, more than 1,400 city workers had been laid off for failing to meet the mandate and there was no hope that the Nets would live up to preseason expectations of being a dominant team. Harden had been traded to Philadelphia in February and Irving had been fined for all the games he missed due to his immunization status. All the Nets could do was finish strong to qualify for the entry tournament.

Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving reacts after scoring a basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of the opening basketball game of the NBA tournament on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, in New York.

More than 96% of NBA players were vaccinated, including every other Nets or New York Knicks player. But Irving did not hesitate and said that he respected everyone’s opinion, although it was clear that not everyone would respect his.

“Some people disagree with me in public, some people disagree with me in private,” Irving said. “It doesn’t really bother me as much as it did at the beginning of the season, because everything was so new. Everything was being thrown in my face, in terms of what I should be doing.

“And it was like, ‘Well, the majority says you should do this,’ and ‘Why are you going against this? You know you’re losing millions. You know you’re giving up on your teammates. I heard everything. They called me so many different names. People go on and on and on drowning out the media space with what they should be doing and I felt like there will be a time when all of this will be blown away and we’ll be able to speak as human beings.”

Irving played brilliantly in his limited time, averaging 27.4 points with one 50-point game and one 60-point game, but basketball was only a secondary part of the conversation this season.

Even with the playoffs approaching, with people still getting booster shots amid the ongoing battle against COVID-19, basketball is still not the main topic of conversation about Irving in some circles. He is aware of the narrative, but said that at this point he cannot be distracted by it.

“I really just want to focus on the game and do everything I can to put my team in the best position to win,” Irving said, adding that he still thinks about all the ups and downs of this season.

“It’s how much has happened, how much has been done, how much has been said. Now is not the time to pay attention to that again. I will get my chance to say the things I want and address the things I want in due time.”

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