Nets’ Kevin Durant says he won’t try to force teammate Kyrie Irving to get COVID-19 vaccine

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After missing the first 35 games of the season, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving returned to action earlier this week against the Indiana Pacers. But when the Nets returned home Friday night for a big clash with defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, Irving was out again because he still hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Irving’s absence was felt, as the Nets never led the game and lost by double digits to the Bucks for the second time this season. But despite the problems Irving’s decision is causing for the Nets, Kevin Durant said he would not try to pressure his teammate to get the shot.

“I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play – play every game,” Durant said. “But I’m not about to force someone to get the shot, like it’s not my thing. So he can play basketball? No, I’m not about to do that.”

“We’ve had conversations about wanting him to be part of the team and conversations about being here full time, but it’s his time,” Durant continued. “Whatever decision he wants to make, he will make it. It’s up to us to be professionals no matter what, and to do our job. All of us – from the owner to the owner of the equipment – so whenever he’s ready he’ll ‘I’ll be ready.’

Due to New York’s COVID-19 warrant, which bars unvaccinated people from entering Barclays Center, Irving cannot play in Nets home games. Because the NBA doesn’t force players to get vaccinated, Irving at been eligible to participate in road games in most cities throughout the season. However, the Nets initially didn’t want him to participate as a part-time player, which is why he wasn’t playing at all.

But with injuries and the recent wave of COVID-19 depriving them of any sense of continuity or cohesion, they shifted their stance and welcomed Irving into the fold. Ironically, he tested positive almost immediately, then had to go through a return-to-play progression to make sure he was physically ready to go. Due to his inability to play at home, Irving will not be able to dress again until Monday.

If there’s any sort of silver lining for the Nets, it’s that 14 of their next 19 games will be on the road. Irving won’t be able to play against the Warriors due to San Francisco’s local COVID-19 tenure, but it’s still a lot of games for him to get a rhythm and help the team achieve much-needed wins.

But while having Irving for some games is better than none at all, Friday night’s loss to the Bucks was a reminder of the issues they’ll face in the later rounds of the playoffs if Irving doesn’t get the shot.

“I didn’t even ask for an explanation,” Durant said. “It’s not my place, I don’t think so. So I’m ready for anything, that’s my whole mentality. Whatever happens in this situation, I always have to be me, keep going there and represent the way I represent I support everything my team needs me to do, wants to do.

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