Kyrie Irving said Wednesday night he still hopes to return and play for the Brooklyn Nets but that "this is about my life and what I am choosing to do," as he explained his decision to not receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Irving, speaking on Instagram Live, said he is neither pro-vaccine nor anti-vaccine and that he fully understands the ramifications of his decision.
"The financial consequences, I know I do not want to even do that," Irving said. "But it is reality that in order to be in New York City, in order to be on a team, I have to be vaccinated. I chose to be unvaccinated, and that was my choice, and I would ask you all to just respect that choice.
"I am going to just continue to stay in shape, be ready to play, be ready to rock out with my teammates and just be part of this whole thing. This is not a political thing; this is not about the NBA, not about any organization. This is about my life and what I am choosing to do."
Irving spoke out on social media one day after the Nets decided to not allow their starting point guard to practice or play with them at all until he complies with New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Irving made it clear that he is not upset with the Nets organization, his teammates or the NBA, and he said he was not trying to make a political statement. He repeatedly said he respects doctors who continue to try to keep people safe and those who are vaccinated, while also respecting those who aren't vaccinated and "are being mandated to do this and are losing their livelihood."
Nets general manager Sean Marks said Tuesday that the decision to not let Irving join the team until he gets at least one vaccine shot was ultimately made by him and team owner Joe Tsai. Marks also said Irving will lose only the money he was due to play in home games, which he is not allowed to do under New York City's mandate.
If Irving misses every game in Brooklyn this season (including preseason games), along with the two regular-season games against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, he could lose over $17 million, according to ESPN's Bobby Marks and Tim Bontemps. Irving also is eligible to sign a four-year, $187 million extension with Brooklyn.
"You got to make these convictions yourself," said Irving, who had not spoken publicly since Sept. 27, when he had to talk to reporters via videoconference call because he couldn't join his teammates for media day due to New York City's mandate. "'Yo, you are going to lose out on money; you are going to lose out on this.' So what. It is not about the money, baby. It is about choosing what is best for you.
"You really think I 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? Think I really just want to sit at home and not go after the things with my teammates that I have been able to grow with, to learn with, to learn that it takes sacrifice in this space. ... You think I want to give up my livelihood because of a mandate, because I don't have accommodations, because I am unvaccinated? Come on."
Irving said he is "still uncertain about a lot of things, and that is OK."
"This is my life," Irving said. "I get to do whatever I want with this, this is one body that I get here. And you are telling me what to do with my body. ... This has everything to do with what is going on in our world. And I am being grouped into something that is bigger than just the game of basketball."
As Irving later added, "I am staying grounded in what I believe in. It is as simple as that. It is not about being anti-vax or about being on one side or the other. It is just really about being true to what feels good for me. ... If I am going to be demonized for having more questions and taking my time to make a decision with my life, that is just what it is. ... I know the consequences of the decisions that I make with my life. I am not here to sugarcoat any of that."
Irving ended his talk on Instagram Live by saying he is not going to end his career like this.
"Nobody is hijacking this voice," Irving said. "See if they play this on their TV channels and if they play this actual truth somewhere before you start talking about me and what I am doing with my life. And no, I am not retiring. And no, I am not going and leaving this game like this. There is still so much more work to do."