Speaking during the league’s media day, Irving refused to disclose his vaccination status, saying he “would like to keep all that private.”
Earlier this month, the NBA warned that vaccine mandates set by New York City and San Francisco could prohibit players of the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors from competing in home games this season if they are not vaccinated or exempted.
Players from visiting teams who compete at the city’s arenas are not included in the local governments’ vaccination mandates.
Irving, who was not physically present at the Nets’ media day due to Covid-19 protocols, attended the event via Zoom.
“I know that I’ll be there every day no matter what and just be present for my teammates as one of the leaders on the team,” Irving said.
“I know the focus has to be at an all-time high, no distractions. This is the last thing I wanted to create, was more distractions and more hoopla and more drama around this.
“I’m doing my best to maintain this with good intentions and a good heart.”
The news comes as basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told Rolling Stone that if NBA players and staff aren’t vaccinated, they should be removed from the team.
Abdul-Jabbar, who has been a proponent of getting the vaccine, later told CNN’s Don Lemon, “I don’t think that they are behaving like good teammates or good citizens.”
“This is a war that we’re involved in. And masks and vaccines — they are the weapons that we use to fight this war,” he added.
Vaccine hesitancy among some players
About 90% of NBA players are vaccinated according to ESPN.
However, Irving is one of numerous NBA players who have either declined, or indicated that they are hesitant to get the vaccine.
“I believe it is your God given right to decide if taking the vaccine is right for you! Period!” Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac tweeted from his verified account on Sunday.
Isaac clarified his comments on Monday during a press conference, saying, “I’m not anti-vax. I’m not anti-medicine. I’m not anti-science. I didn’t come to my current vaccination status by studying Black history or watching Donald Trump press conferences.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for every healthcare worker and person in Orlando and all across the board that have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.”
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who could not compete at the Tokyo Olympics after being placed in USA Basketball’s health and safety protocols, said he doesn’t “feel pressure” to get the vaccine, ESPN also reported.
Following the NBA’s caution, CNN learned that the Knicks have fully vaccinated all their players, whereas the Nets and Warriors have yet to do so, or gain exemptions.
The NBA denied Golden State Warriors star Andrew Wiggins’ request to be exempt from the vaccine for religious reasons, making him ineligible to play home games until he reaches San Francisco’s vaccination requirement, the league announced on Friday.
The lack of vaccine uptake by some NBA players mirrors a countrywide trend in the US, where the daily pace of new Covid-19 vaccinations is the lowest it has been since mid-January, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started tracking the data.
The seven-day average rate of people getting their first shot is 31% less than last week, and almost 50% less than a month earlier — with 55% of the total US population fully vaccinated.
With this year’s NBA season due to start on October 19, questions remain as to whether players across the league will change their stance, or instead forgo competition.