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Nets’ Kyrie Irving on being in middle of vaccine debate: ‘Life of a martyr’

Kyrie Irving, while admitting he felt at times he was letting his Nets teammates down by not being able to play for parts of this season, still described himself as a “martyr” for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine despite heavy criticism.

“I was not expecting a mandate to be brought down in a way where it wasn’t going to let me play at all,” Irving said on “The ETCs” podcast that published Wednesday.

“I had the opportunity to play away games still, but there was no plan in place, there was no vision of how it was going to work for our team. And I think that really impacted not just me, but a lot of people. Just had to sit in that hot seat for a little bit and deal with it. The life of a martyr, bro.”

When host Eddie Gonzalez pointed out Irving was unlikely to get out of that hot seat anytime soon, the Nets star said: “I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that.”

He will have to be. Irving admits to being a provocateur, and added on the podcast — on Nets teammate Kevin Durant’s Boardroom network — that he has said and done a number of things some find controversial.

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving
NBAE via Getty Images

“I’ve said so many things in my life — whether it be in public or in private conversations — that could be controversial, or they can make someone think a certain way about me,” Irving said. “I really don’t pay attention to that as much now. But I’ve just been able to learn and grow in this space to be able to learn hey, I can articulate how I feel about certain issues, but some things I’ve got to keep close to my chest, because not everybody’s gonna understand .

“Not everybody understood my stance this year of being unvaccinated or remaining unvaccinated. I was asked in all different types of ways how I felt and whether or not I was going to waver, did I feel like I was letting the world down or letting the Nets fans down, letting my teammates down. Yeah, part of that letdown feeling definitely seeped in, because it completely caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to come into the season with all of this being put on my plate.

“It was like an ultimatum given to me. It’s either you work and get vaccinated, just like this ultimatum was given to other people, or you sit at home and now we get to talk s–t about your decision and you personally and we make all these judgments. I had to deal with both ends of the spectrum. So I sat right in the middle and I knew I was doing the right thing for me. And I had to stay rooted in that decision.”

Irving’s decision to not adhere to New York City’s vaccine mandate barred him from playing at Barclays Center and the Garden until late March.

The All-Star guard — who has declined to explicitly explain his reason for refusing the vaccine — became a lightning rod, and a darling of those who opposed mandates.

The Nets initially shelved him altogether until they capitulated and let him play on the road. He made his season debut Jan. 5 at Indiana. Then the city created an exemption from the mandate for athletes and entertainers.

“I’m just happy for those that can stand firm and what they believe in and still be able to make a living,” Irving said. “When things come up in our society where they impact people, people’s decisions based on real life circumstances, like people have kids, people have families. And I just feel like it got confusing for a lot of us, it got spun like you said in so many different ways.

“But really what I was standing on was, hey, there’s a whole community of us right that have been labeled as the unvaccinated, as the conspiracy theorists, whatever, you know, we’ve been labeled as whatever these names have been brought to our lives, right, who we are as people. But I was just saying, I am human, you’re human. You have the right to make your own decision. I respect that. And I pray that you respect me in the same way. But when you’re playing in an entertainment game, and you’re playing kind of a bigger game yourself, it has rules, so…”


Another member of the Nets coaching staff is drawing outside interest, with the Hornets getting permission to interview assistant David Vanterpool.

The Hornets will also interview Bucks assistant Charles Lee and Mike D’Antoni, according to ESPN.

“We’ll see if anyone has a job opportunity to be a head [coach],” coach Steve Nash said after last month’s first-round sweep at the hands of Boston. “But I really enjoyed working with my staff. They’ve been unbelievable at staying together this year.”

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