Huge news out of the NBA – and it affects Major League Baseball’s Yankees and Mets as well – as on Thursday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on athletes, paving the way for Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play at the Barclays Center on Sunday for the first time this season and for unvaccinated New York Yankees and Mets players to play in their April home openers.
The rollback of the mandate that has applied to all private businesses in the city would cover professional athletes and performers. It would come on the heels of discussions that had given hope to NBA and MLB teams that the long-awaited move would come to fruition.
Adams signed an order exempting NYC-based performers from the private sector vaccine mandate while leaving the rule intact for the vast majority of private employees citywide. Reports of the plan drew immediate backlash, with many calling it unfair that NYC workers remain suspended without pay while millionaire pros and entertainers will get a pass. Adams insisted his decision was intended to put New York City-based performers, which include athletes in this case, on a level playing field.
“Hometown players had an unfair disadvantage to those who were coming to visit,” Adams said of the mandate, which excused only non-NYC residents previously. “It’s unimaginable — treating our performers differently because they lived and played for home teams. Unacceptable. It’s a self-imposed competitive disadvantage.”
Irving has only been able to play on the road – recently, he had been able to attend games at the Barclays Center but couldn’t play in them because he was unvaccinated. Yet, opposing unvaccinated players could play, which made little sense. The exemption for out-of-town performers and athletes, however, was part of the Key2NYC vaccination mandate. Adams’ administration had already lifted the Key2NYC mandate; it is now making Irving and other unvaccinated performers exempt from a different mandate, which covers private businesses.
Irving’s choice to make himself ineligible for 53 of the Nets’ 72 games isn’t the only reason that the team enters the final two and a half weeks at a disappointing 38-35 but it’s a big one. Irving is averaging a career-high 28.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game. He’s shooting just under 53 percent on 2-pointers, launching more than 10 3-pointers per 100 possessions and drilling nearly 44 percent of them while shooting 91 percent from the foul line. Irving’s also a high-usage ball handler, driver, and facilitator. Over his past six games, Irving’s averaging 38.7 points per game on absurd 58/55/89 shooting.
His first home game Sunday will be against Charlotte, and this news is a huge boost to Brooklyn’s chances of reaching the NBA Finals. Despite sitting eighth in the East and looking at the play-in tournament the Nets are +325 favorites to win the East because oddsmakers expected Irving to eventually be cleared for home games. When Ben Simmons makes his Nets debut is a different story, but Irving and Kevin Durant alone are good enough to win the East.
As noted, this also applies to Major League Baseball – it is believed that Yankees superstar Aaron Judge is unvaccinated and before this he wouldn’t have been able to play at home. Judge, who missed some time last season due to COVID, has not been specific about his vaccination status. The Yankees’ season opener is scheduled for April 7, at Yankee Stadium, against the Boston Red Sox.
Note that if the Nets or Yankees play in Canada, unvaccinated players can’t go there because of different laws north of the border.
Thus, if Brooklyn faced the Raptors in the play-in tournament in Toronto, which would happen as things stand right now, Irving would have to sit. The Raptors are 2-2 against the Nets this season, but both wins came in games where Durant did not play. Toronto needs to either hope the Nets jump over them to earn the No. 6 seed or plow ahead themselves to escape the play-in tournament.
The Yanks’ first visit to Toronto is for a three-game series on May 2. Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and second baseman Christian Arroyo said this week they received the COVID-19 shot after being among the league’s unvaccinated players last season. Unvaccinated players in the American League East would miss 10 games in Toronto unless guidelines change. They would be placed on the restricted list — without pay or service time — during those series in Canada.