Unvaccinated NBA players in New York City and San Francisco will not be paid for missed games resulting from local COVID-19 vaccine mandates that prevent them from playing, the league announced Wednesday.
"Any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for games that he misses," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement to the media on the third day of training camps.
The announcement came one day after the NBA made clear its preference to employ a vaccine mandate for its players, pointing to the players' union as the roadblock to securing 100% vaccination for its members.
“A vaccine mandate for NBA players would need an agreement with the Players Association," said Bass. "The NBA has made these proposals, but the players’ union has rejected any vaccination requirement.”
The NBA's hardline approach could cost unvaccinated players on the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors significant salary, namely Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Warriors wing Andrew Wiggins. Both Irving and Wiggins opted not to answer multiple questions about their vaccination status on Monday.
Irving did not attend Brooklyn's media day due to city regulations, which require "proof of at least one dose of vaccination for all workers and individuals in indoor entertainment and performing arts venues." The NBA also recently denied Wiggins' request for religious exemption from the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s order requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all participants age 12 and older at large indoor events.
Irving is due $34.9 million this season, and Wiggins is owed $31.6 million. The NBA is still deliberating on the precise financial penalty for each missed game, per ESPN's Bobby Marks, "but it will be substantial."
If the NBA docks the same salary from paychecks as it would for unpaid suspensions, players would lose 1/145th of their salary for each game missed and 1/110th of their salary if their absences exceed 20 games. NBA teams play 41 home games per season. Irving and Wiggins could lose almost $250,000 per game in this scenario. Irving and Wiggins would stand to lose nearly $15 million this season under this structure.
The National Basketball Referees Association recently approved a vaccine mandate for its officials. Likewise, the NBA requires every team staff member who works within 15 feet of players or referees during games to be vaccinated, a mandate that extends to all coaches, front-office personnel and trainers. The discrepancy between players and other personnel has reportedly forged a divide between the two factions.
"They need to hold the players to the same standards they hold us," a strength and conditioning coach told ESPN's Baxter Holmes. "This is a disease that doesn't differentiate between a player and a staff member."
Meanwhile, the National Basketball Players Association's leadership is celebrating its 90% vaccination rate.
"I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of the fact that 90% of the league is vaccinated," NBPA president CJ McCollum tweeted on Monday, as the union's anti-vaccination contingent dominated the conversation.
"Over 90% of our players are fully vaccinated," NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN. "Nationally, on average only 55% of Americans are. The real story is not why vaccination isn't mandated in the NBA. ... The real story for proponents of vaccination is how can we emulate the players in the NBA."
More than 70% of Americans eligible for the vaccine have received at least one dose, according to research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A 90% rate is closer in line to KFF data for wealthy individuals, especially for a union touting progressive politics. It is still well short of the WNBA's 99% vaccination rate.
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