NBA

Financial penalties set to kick in for NBA star Irving over vaccine refusal

"Ineligible to play" in the Brooklyn Nets' preseason clash at home to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, Irving is about to start seeing the financial cost of his anti-vax stance.

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Financial penalties set to kick in for NBA star Irving over vaccine refusal
Steven Ryan Getty Images

And now, after all the reports, rumours and opinions about Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get the covid-19 vaccine and the New York City laws that prevent him from playing or training with the Nets in Brooklyn, the problems are about to start getting very real. The situation for the Nets, one of the favourites for the NBA championship, is an absolute mess and doesn’t look like being resolved any time soon. The latest reports, indeed, say the franchise is starting to feel hugely pessimistic about the issue and is even considering tough measures such as banishing Irving, one of its three superstars, from the roster altogether, rather than dealing with a situation where he is unavailable at home and available on the road.

Nets say Irving "ineligible to play" in preseason matchup with Bucks

On Friday, the Nets play their second preseason game, their first at their Barclays Center home court. They face the NBA champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, in a matchup that is a repeat of what was a tremendous series in the second round of last season’s playoffs. However, the clash is overshadowed by Irving’s much-publicised absence, for which the official reason given by the Nets is that he is “ineligible to play”. Unless the point guard gets the vaccine - something his team seriously doubts he’s going to do - that will be his status from now on in every home game. We’ll have to get used to that phrase, ineligible to play, one which had not previously been a regularly feature of NBA teams’ communications, but which is what the Nets have chosen as they cannot legally give out information about whether or not Irving’s unavailability is due to his vaccination status.

Irving practised with the team during its camp in San Diego, but has been on the sidelines since the Nets returned to Brooklyn. And, until further notice, that’s how things will remain. In New York City, the regulations governing the pandemic are strict: you can’t access closed public venues or participate in indoor events if you aren’t vaccinated. You need to have had at least one dose. That means any players with the Nets or the New York Knicks who haven’t received the vaccine cannot take part in any of their team’s home matches - friendlies, 41 regular-season games, potential playoff clashes - or training sessions.

Unlike the policy it implemented for other staff in the NBA universe, the league opted against making it mandatory for players to be vaccinated, but warned them that they faced being docked pay for games they miss as a result of local rules on vaccination. The Nets, who are training without Irving, have two friendlies left at home, on Friday and in a week’s time, before kicking off their regular season with two road games. Their opening fixture at Barclays Center is on 24 October. And a test of Irving’s resolve will arrive right away: in the second week of the regular season, the Nets begin a run of six home games in a row. In November and December, 20 of Brooklyn’s 26 games will be at Barclays Center.

Irving (right) talks to fellow Brooklyn Nets stars Kevin Durant (centre) and James Harden during a time out in the first half of a preseason game against the LA Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Brooklyn absences could cost Irving over $15m in NBA regular season

For Irving, the financial consequences could be huge. The 29-year-old’s contract for this season is worth just over $35 million. He has a player option for $36.6m in 2022/23, and the Nets were keen to negotiate an extension - thought to be for $187m over four years - to ensure his future. That new deal will obviously now be on hold, and for every game he misses in Brooklyn, Irving will forfeit $381,181 in pay, per the journalist Bobby Marks. This would lead to the player losing $782,000 in the remainder of preseason and $15.6m if he doesn’t feature in any of the Nets’ home games in the regular season. On top of that, he’d miss out on another $762,000 in the Nets’ two visits to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks, and, Marks reveals, $413,000 in bonus payments. And these figures don’t take into account the playoffs.