Kyrie Irving returns to the Brooklyn Nets with a chip on his shoulder.
His decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine last year cost him a max contract extension that would have paid him $246 million over five years or a shorter four-year deal worth more than $187 million.
But instead, Irving was forced to opt into his $36.9 player option after his market dried up due to what he believed was an unfair stigma.
“I gave up four years, 100-and-something million deciding to be unvaccinated and that was the decision. Because contract [requires us] to get vaccinated or be unvaccinated and there’s a level of uncertainty with your future whether you’re gonna be in this league, whether you’re gonna be on this team. I had to deal with that real-life circumstance of losing my job for this.”Kyrie Irving during NBA Media Day
Irving revealed a contract extension would have been sealed last offseason as Durant did, but the pandemic got in a way where he felt he was forced into a request to get the vaccine.
Irving decided not to get the vaccine and was limited to 29 games last season. While he was allowed to play in away games, the Nets initially kept him from joining the team, citing they needed full-time players. But they relented when the Nets’ playoff hopes started to disappear as Kevin Durant and James were out with injuries.
It was not until near the playoffs when the city mandate relaxed on athletes and performers, allowing Irving to be available full-time. But it was too late for the Nets and they crashed out of the playoffs in the first round.
Irving immediately hinted that he wants to stay in Brooklyn for the long-term and intends to co-manage the team alongside Kevin Durant, who already had some doubts, GM Sean Marks and team owner Joe Tsai.
Then came the messy contract negotiation.
“I didn’t appreciate how my being unvaccinated came to be a stigma within my career that I don’t want to play, or that I’m willing to give up everything to be a voice for the voiceless.”Kyrie Irving during NBA Media Day
He threatened to get out of Brooklyn, but his limited options forced him to reverse his course of action. The Los Angeles Lakers were the only team who showed interest, but the Nets were not interested in absorbing Russell Westbrook’s $47 million expiring contract.
“There were options but not many. I tell you that because again the stigma if whether I want to play or committed to the team which was really unfair at times but also the timing was ideal to put that on me because I wasn’t available.”Kyrie Irving during NBA Media Day
After a tumultuous season and offseason, Irving said he reflected a bit over the summer and came to a realization that coming back to Brooklyn was the best thing for him.
With everything in the rearview mirror, Irving is ready to move forward and erase the stigma. That would come if he help the Nets win a championship or at least, become a serious contender.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo