Anti-vax basketball players put the NBA at risk
It's a fact that COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. This has been particularly challenging for the world of sports, where the NBA has been a great example of how to deal with the virus since day one. Now the performance and continuity of the league is put in danger by a few players who don't want to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The NBA didn't hesitate when it suspended Rudy Gobert, the first player to get tested positive, while the rest of the world was still learning how serious the virus was. It was March 12th, 2020 and many people thought at the time that it was an overreaction.
This suspension was followed by one the best ideas to come up in the history of sports: the NBA Bubble. The games were moved to Walt Disney World, where the teams were isolated for two months, with constant testing and a high-end security system. This initiative prevented an economic disaster.
The experiment proved successful and the LA Lakers ended becoming champions of the NBA's strangest season yet.
Things are slowly back to normal, with over 60% of the US population vaccinated and the public returning to the basketball courts. However, the anti-vax movement consists of a good deal of people. Many refuse to get the shots developed by Pfizer, Moderna and other pharmaceuticals.
Part of the anti-vax movement are NBA players, too. They are putting at risk the game and therefore, millions of US dollars. In fact, it is estimated that the 2020 NBA Bubble helped the basketball league avoid losses of 1,5 billion US dollars.
The players, unlike coaches, officials and other personnel, aren't required to follow the mandates declared in places like New York or San Francisco. Such mandates establish that all indoor employees have to get vaccinated.
Some players have come out as anti-vaxxers despite the attempt of the NBA to keep them anonymous. Their public refusal to get vaccinated puts the start of the 2021-2022 season, on October 19th, in jeopardy.
The most well-known anti-vaxxer is Kyrie Irving, age 29. The Brooklyn Nets point guard refuses to have any type of vaccine and, being one of the biggest basketball stars right now, it's a major problem.
Kyrie Irving was meant to be part of the best Big Three in NBA history, along with James Harden and Kevin Durant, to make way for the championship. However, Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash has stated that long Irvin won’t be playing until he gets the shots. The news was announced by general manager Sean Marks, who took the decision along with the franchise owner, Joe Tsai.
Each game Kyrie Irving misses will cost him 400,000 US dollars out of his seasonal contract. The Brooklyn Nets are even considering to drop their star player. According to journalist Adrian Wojnarowski, this means they will not to extend his 4-year 198 million agreement, around 50 million US dollars per season.
Despite this, Kyrie Irving is firm in his decision to not get vaccinated. In case he gets fired, insiders say, he might retire. That means he would be leaving basketball with 29 years, 160 million US dollars and a championship ring.
Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal is in the same boat. The 28-year old shooting guard already missed the Olympic Games after contracting coronavirus. Despite this, Beal remains steadfast in not getting the shots.
"I would like an explanation; people with vaccines, why are they still getting COVID?" Beal asked during the Washington Wizards Media Day when talking about the vaccine mandate in his team. So far, the shooting guard continues unvaccinated, waiting to see what will happen to him at the start of the season.
Andrew Wiggins' case was similar, but with a different ending. The Golden State Warriors forward also refused to get the shots. He faced getting barred from playing by the laws of the city of San Francisco and the state of California.
The Canadian player was losing around 350,000 US dollars for every game he missed, while also curtailing the chances of the Golden State Warriors to reach the playoffs.
Andrew Wiggins finally gave in and got vaccinated, which means Steve Kerr can count on him during this season. However, the forward has been clear on social media that he "was forced to" getting the vaccine. "Hopefully, it works out in the long run and in 10 years I'm still healthy," he said according to Reuters.
If the anti-vaxxers affect the normal run of the game, the words of some influential figures in the sport hit hardest outside the court. An example is Lebron James. The indisputable king of current-day NBA has spoken about the vaccine with evasive remarks.
"I know I can only speak for myself. I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family", James said during the LA Lakers Media Day.
King James' clout with African-Americans has made many to follow his words and refuse to get the vaccine. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came out to correct his modern-day Lakers teammate. "I admire him and have affection for him. But this time LeBron is just plain wrong and his being wrong could be deadly, especially to the Black community”, declared the six-time Substack champion.
Michael Jordan, who is head to head with Lebron to be regarded as the best player in NBA history, has adopted a similar stance. "I am total in unison with the league. I'm a firm believer in science and, you know, I'm going to stick with that and hopefully everybody abides by whatever the league sets the rules. I think once everybody buys in, we're going the be fine", the former Chicago Bulls player commented on NBC.
An estimated 95% of NBA team members are vaccinated. Out of 450 players, only between 20 and 25 players are missing the shots.
Interestingly, with only a few days short for the start of the season, it's that 5% that is getting all the headlines about the NBA. Specially since stars such as Damian Lillard or Giannis Antetokounmpo have been vocal about their support of the vaccine. "Yeah, I'm vaccinated and I think it's the best decision", the NBA champion and the 2021 Finals MVP said.