Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving remains hopeful New York City overturns COVID-19 vaccine mandate

MIAMI -- Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving remains hopeful that the New York City vaccination mandate will eventually get overturned and he will be able to participate in home games this season.

Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, has not been able to play for the Nets inside Barclays Center and will not be able to play again with his team until Feb. 26 in Milwaukee since the Nets have three more home games during that stretch and a road game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

Irving's absence in New York City is even more prominent now given the fact that the Nets have dropped 11 straight games after a 115-111 loss to the Heat on Saturday night.

"It will look good when we see some more pieces out there," Irving said after the game. "With that being said, I still wish I could be out there at home. And some people say it's as simple as, 'Hey, go get this, go get the shot.' No, it's not as simple as that for me in my life, but ultimately still praying for a better outcome."

Nets general manager Sean Marks said during a news conference Friday that he felt nobody was more frustrated about the situation than Irving himself. But the Nets point guard said that as he watches games from his home, he doesn't feel guilty about the choice he has made not to get the vaccine.

"There's no guilt that I feel," Irving said. "I'm the only player that has to deal with this in New York City because I play there. If I was anywhere else in another city then it probably wouldn't be the same circumstances. But because I'm there, we have [mayor] Eric Adams, we have the New York mandate, we have things going on that are real-life circumstances that are not just affecting me, bro. So you ask me these questions, I don't feel guilt.

"I'm just living my life as best I can just like everybody else that missed these last two years. I didn't have a plan in place while all this was going on, didn't know. The NBA and the NBPA made it very clear that there would be things that I would be able to do to work around this. And that's off the table. So you tell me if I'm just alone out here or do I have support from everybody else that's dealing with the same thing?"

Irving made it clear again that he feels the support from Marks and the rest of the Nets organization. "With me and Sean, we talk often so it's not anything new," Irving said.

Irving almost brought the Nets all the way back from a 21-point deficit in Saturday's loss, scoring 20 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. But it wasn't enough for a Nets team that continues to flounder just after pulling off a blockbuster deal that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first round picks.

Irving acknowledged that it has been tough for some of his family members to listen to the criticism he has received for not getting the vaccine.

"This hasn't been easy for anybody," Irving said. "And I think the more that you guys keep hammering in on this and then also in public spaces, I'm noticing that people like to make jokes about what's going on. And 'half game,' or 'half man,' or whatever it is. And my family has to see some of that stuff, my teammates have to see some of that. And like I said, the outside noise creeps in at times, but it doesn't impact me because I'm used to this."

Nets coach Steve Nash said after Saturday's game that he feels his team is "adapting fine," to Irving's in and out nature in the lineup.

"It's not a normal thing," Nash said. "I think they haven't wavered at it ... I think they're proving that that's not a big factor for them as far as their mentality and spirit. We saw a lot of spirit out there tonight."

While Irving said he doesn't feel guilt for his decision, he did admit that it has been "tough" watching from a distance. He missed almost three months of the regular season before the Nets reversed course and allowed him to come back in a part-time status during a Jan. 5 win over the Indiana Pacers.

"It's always tough," Irving said. "It's been tough since the beginning. But there's even a lesson in that, of just being more engaged than I was even a few months back. Just getting closer together with the guys and being able to do things that make this place not feel like work every day. Whether I'm there or at home or not, if I'm playing games or not."