The basketball superstar will make his season debut this week, as the Nets ultimately relented to his stance on remaining unvaccinated.
After 35 games, some cringeworthy Instagram posts, and a very public battle between a multibillion dollar franchise and one of its star players, the Kyrie Irving saga is moving closer to its end. And Irving — along with willful ignorance — won out. On Wednesday, the basketball superstar will make his season debut for the Brooklyn Nets in a road game against the Indiana Pacers, a move that comes after the Nets’ roster has been besieged in recent weeks by injuries and a Covid surge.
Irving’s re-entry at least partly ends a months-long standstill between him and his team after the point guard refused to get the Covid-19 vaccination. Irving’s decision automatically barred him from playing home games in New York City due to the city’s Covid vaccinate mandate for indoor settings. But, in a dramatic move, the Nets organization announced Irving could not participate in the team’s season part-time, essentially giving the star an ultimatum to get vaccinated or leave.
Irving has infamously dug his heels in, and so have the Nets — until now. To this point, Irving has cast himself as a free thinker, and provided anti-vaxxers with a poster child for their cause. Yet, the Nets’ decision to allow him back into the fold ultimately comes to reward that self-image: Irving manages to return the game unvaccinated at the end of the day and being affirmed by the fact that he bravely stood his ground, ultimately uncompromised in his principles.
The outcome is in some ways predictable. At some point, particularly with a massive franchise with countless corporate interests tied up in it, money wins out, and the Nets only stand to lose more money when standing their ground while gaining none in the process. In another sense, the move is a microcosm of the sad reality of where we are at in the pandemic: as we prepare to enter the third year of this crisis, enduring another unpredictable surge and remaining confused about the proper guidance, it has become inevitable, even reasonable, that every depleted corner of personal and professional life caves to an extent on maintaining safety protocols, allowing individuals like Irving to be absolved of consequences for an emergency that they have in large part prolonged.
Most of all, the saga affirms a most American way of life — the corporation needs its worker to get back on the job. Only, in this case, both Irving and the Nets are rather happy about it all. Notably, the entire situation has provided a convenient situation for the Nets. After all, the organization had so steadfastly maintained its position on Irving’s stance, that it would provide difficult, and embarrassing, to give in at this point. Yet, given the cover of their desperation at a thinning roster, the team now has a reasonable excuse to bring back Irving for assistance — while also, ultimately, keeping him long-term even after the team returns to full form following the Omicron surge.
Then again, the situation remains partly unresolved, with Irving still banned from home games. But, based on this development, if he waits out long enough — if we reach a point where mandates ease up and we crawl our way out of this pandemic to some version of realistically post-Covid life — we know he’ll win out eventually, just like he will on Wednesday when he steps out onto the court in Indiana.