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Anti-vaccination stances in the NBA are taking center stage ahead of the new season

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kyrie irving 2021
Kyrie Irving. Mary Altaffer/AP Images
  • There are 50-60 NBA players who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Rolling Stone.

  • Unvaccinated players and their refusal to get the jab became the focal point of NBA media days.

  • Some unvaccinated players may miss games while there is tension in the league over the issue.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

On Monday, NBA teams met with the media to help kick off the 2021-22 season, and the COVID-19 vaccination took center stage.

The Media Day blitz came after Matt Sullivan's report in Rolling Stone suggested that the NBA is grappling with an anti-vaxxer problem. According to Sullivan, the players union rejected the idea of a vaccine mandate. And while Sullivan reported that 90% of players are vaccinated, an additional 50-60 players are still unvaccinated. In a league of 30 teams, this could mean two players per 15-man squad - a not-insignificant amount.

Across the league, players fielded questions about their vaccination status and why they've rejected the jab to this point. Terse or defensive answers from unvaccinated and unrelenting players became the focal point of a day typically used to create hype around the season.

Two players are at risk of missing games because of their choices

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving was featured prominently in Sullivan's report - though it wasn't clear if Irving had received the vaccine.

That picture became clearer on Monday, as Irving missed the Nets media day because New York City requires athletes who practice or play in New York to be fully vaccinated. With training camp beginning, Irving cannot practice with his team.

Irving repeatedly asked for privacy when asked about his vaccination status. He told reporters that he did not want to create "more hoopla and more drama" surrounding his decision.

However, the media asked Irving's teammates about his decision. Kevin Durant said the decision was a "personal" one for Irving but that he expected to have all of the team together at some point.

The Nets will travel to San Diego for training camp, and Irving is expected to join them.

Andrew Wiggins passes the ball with his right hand during a game.
Andrew Wiggins. Jeff Chiu/AP Images

A similar scene unfolded with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, as their starting forward Andrew Wiggins faced similar questions about his decision not to get vaccinated. San Francisco also requires players to be vaccinated to play and practice indoors. The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that Wiggins had not been vaccinated, despite the Warriors' efforts to educate him on the vaccine.

"I'm confident in my beliefs and what I think is right and what I think is wrong," Wiggins said via CBS's Colin Ward-Henninger. "I'm gonna keep doing what I believe ... What's right for one person isn't right for another. It's none of your business is what it comes down to. I don't ask you guys what you believe is right or wrong."

Once again, Wiggins' teammates had to answer to Wiggins' decision and the possibility of a key player missing home games and practice time.

"At the end of the day, it is up to him," Stephen Curry told reporters, according to CBS. "It's no secret to that point. We obviously hope that he has all the right information, the access to the right resources to ask all the questions he has on making that decision. We hope he's available. We hope he moves in the right direction ... We obviously hope he's available and with us, and kind of go from there. It's difficult."

Vaccine hesitancy remains in some players

Bradley Beal holds his hands up during a game.
Bradley Beal. Nick Wass/AP Images

At the Washington Wizards' media day, star guard Bradley Beal, who missed the Olympics after contracting COVID-19, expressed skepticism about the vaccine to reporters.

"I would like an explanation to, you know, people with vaccines," Beal said, according to The Washington Post's Ava Wallace. "Why are they still getting COVID? If that's something that we are supposed to highly be protected from, like it's funny that it only reduces your chances of going to the hospital. It doesn't eliminate anybody from getting COVID, right? So is everybody in here vaxxed, I would assume? Right. So you all can still get COVID, right?"

Along with Beal, Wizards players like Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, Spencer Dinwiddie, and rookie Corey Kispert were asked about their vaccination status - all but Kuzma revealed they were vaccinated, with Kuzma asking for privacy.

Likewise, Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac explained his stance to reporters. He was quoted in Rolling Stone as not trusting the vaccine because humans developed it.

"I understand that the vaccine would help if you catch COVID, you'll be able to have less symptoms from contracting it," Isaac said. "But with me having COVID in the past and having antibodies, with my current age group, and physical fitness level it's not necessarily a fear of mine. Taking the vaccine, like I said, it would decrease my chances of having a severe reaction, but it does open me up to the, albeit rare, but the possibility of having an adverse reaction to the vaccine itself."

Isaac said his comments were misrepresented in the Rolling Stone article and tweeted on Sunday that a vaccine should be a personal choice.

Unvaccinated players are a small but noteworthy group

Several teams have come out to say they are 100% vaccinated. And many players, including notable figures like Damian Lillard, spoke on Monday of the vaccine's effectiveness and the importance of getting it to protect others.

But the small group of players who remain unvaccinated stand to have an outsized impact on the season.

ESPN's Baxter Holmes reported that staff members around the NBA who are mandated to be vaccinated are frustrated with unvaccinated players. There are coaches and training staff members who fear catching COVID from an unvaccinated player and bringing it home to their families.

One training staff source told Holmes that some staff members feel like their lives are not being valued the same as players'.

Read the original article on Insider

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