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Former NBA player John Salley has defended Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving for his decision not to get a coronavirus shot, causing him to miss a significant number of games this season.
Salley praised Irving for his commitment to assessing what’s going on in his body this week.
“I think Kyrie Irving is the best athlete — professional,” Salley said in an interview with TMZ. “I think he’s aware. I think he’s thinking about it. I think it’s very important for people to be careful too, he doesn’t like lies, glitz. He likes to take care of his body .”
Salley explained that Irving does his own research but is ridiculed because his beliefs are not considered by the mainstream.
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“I’m Kyrie’s biggest fan,” Salley said. “Everything he does, I take my hat off to him.”
The NBA did not have a vaccination mandate for its players this season, but due to a local mandate for New York-based businesses that was in place for most of the season, Irving was banned from play home games.
Irving was still allowed to play in road games, and unvaccinated players competing for visiting teams were still allowed to play in New York arenas.
The Nets initially decided not to let Irving play at all because they didn’t want him to be just a part-time player. But a COVID outbreak in December that led to several players missing games forced the team’s hand, and Irving began playing in road games beginning Jan. 5.
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“You have a guy who didn’t catch the virus, and everyone who talked about him really misunderstood him,” Salley said. “He had a very strong immune system.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams relaxed COVID mandates in early March to allow unvaccinated people into bars, gyms and large venues such as sports arenas, a rule that allowed Irving to attend to games in the Nets arena as a fan, but this still prohibits him from dressing for his team.
Later that month, Adams again updated COVID restrictions to allow unvaccinated athletes and entertainers to perform in the city, allowing Irving to play in every Nets game for the remainder of the season.
The Nets have suggested they may not want to re-sign Irving to a long-term contract, although it’s unclear what the organization’s intentions are. Irving has a $36.5 million player option this summer, allowing him to go with the deal for next season or turn it down and test his worth in the free agent market.
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And according to reports, Irving’s shoe deal with Nike may not be extended beyond next season.
The Nets finished the season with the seventh best record in the Eastern Conference, but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics.
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“I watch how he plays,” Salley said. “His dribbling, his handling; he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.”