If you're wondering whether or not Irving will be eligible to play in New York City when it lifts its vaccine mandate for public indoor spaces, the answer is: No.
If you would like a more thorough explanation of what is and isn't changing for Irving and the city, here's the deal:
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What NYC mandates are being lifted soon?
Beginning March 7, the Key2NYC vaccine requirements for indoor public spaces -- i.e. restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters, concert venues, museums, arenas, etc. -- will be lifted, "as long as COVID indicators show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week," Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, announced on Sunday.
The city also plans to lift its indoor mask mandate for children at public schools. "At the end of this week, we will evaluate the numbers and make a final announcement on Friday," Adams said in his statement.
How will this affect Irving?
If the city goes forward with this plan as expected, starting next week Irving will no longer be barred from eating in restaurants and the like. He will be allowed to attend Nets games at Barclays Center (and its game at Madison Square Garden on April 6) as a spectator, as will others who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Why won't Irving be able to play in the games?
Because, according to Adams' statement, "all other vaccine mandates in New York City will remain in place at this time as they are, and have been, vital to protecting New Yorkers." This includes the city's vaccine requirement for private businesses, which has been in effect since Dec. 27.
If you do in-person work for a New York City-based business, you must be vaccinated.
Visitors can be unvaxxed; why is a loophole keeping Irving out?
Irving is subject to the same private-sector mandate as all of his teammates, all of the New York Knicks and virtually everyone else who works in the city. Letting Irving play while this mandate is in place would be tantamount to creating a loophole for Irving, not removing one.
"It would send the wrong message just to have an exception for one player when we're telling countless number of New York City employees, 'If you don't follow the rules, you won't be able to be employed,'" Adams said in an appearance on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Monday.
Adams continued: "Businesses have their vaccine mandate. City employees have their vaccine mandates. I have to follow the rules. And trust me, I want Kyrie on the court. We are here right now opening our city because of vaccine mandates. We can't close down again."
here's Eric Adams on Kyrie on CNBC:— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) February 28, 2022
"It would send the wrong message just to have an exception for one player when we're telling countless number of New York City employees 'If you don’t follow the rules, we won’t be able to be employed.'" pic.twitter.com/N8dbv094SR
Why do visiting players have a loophole then?
Good question! People have been asking this for months. In late September, former mayor Bill de Blasio argued that allowing unvaccinated out-of-town performers -- i.e. touring bands, comedians, professional athletes on visiting teams -- to play indoor venues does not constitute a loophole. "There is a recognition that if someone comes through briefly, it's a different reality than someone who works regularly in a location," de Blasio said, via THE CITY. De Blasio also directly urged Irving to "get vaccinated."
(In October, State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced a bill that would make out-of-town performers subject to the same requirements as everybody else. The bill has been referred to a committee in the New York State Senate.)
While Adams has directly said he thinks there is a double standard, he has not pledged to get rid of it. On Feb. 16, Adams said that "the rule is unfair," but added that he is "struggling with this, just to be honest" because he is "really, really leery about sending the wrong message." (Earlier that day, in an interview on ESPN's "Get Up," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, "It just doesn't quite make sense to me that an away player who is unvaccinated can play in Barclays but the home player can't.")
In his interview with CNBC on Monday, Adams made his position clear: He doesn't like that there are different rules for visitors, but that doesn't mean he will remove the rules that apply to New York's home teams.
"I don't know who thought of putting such a ridiculous rule in place of away teams can come and play when our teams from New York (must be vaccinated)," Adams said. "But these are the rules and I have to follow the rules. If I don't, I'm … sending the wrong message to everyday employees."
Will Irving be eligible to play in New York City anytime soon?
Depends who you ask. The Nets have expressed optimism recently.
"If you turn on CNN or BBC or Fox or whatever your flavor is, you see how everything is changing," general manager Sean Marks said on Feb. 22. Marks added that "we're starting to see a sense of normality again, getting back to life. We have to go on. There's enough people that -- vaccine rates are obviously high, so I am optimistic. I have to be optimistic. I think that's the only way to look at this."
At Irving's post-game press conference in Milwaukee on Feb. 26, his first appearance in two weeks -- Brooklyn's final game before the All-Star break and first game following it were both at home -- he said that he is "remaining patient and just seeing where things end up in this next week or so, two weeks, I'm not too sure." Irving also said that he is "glad that things are kind of settling down and there's light at the end of the tunnel here."
On Sunday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, "Here's interpretation on NYC Mayor's announcement: Kyrie Irving remains restricted from playing under NYC mandate for large employers, but March 7 loosening of Key2NYC mandate is another step in what's expected to be an inevitability Irving will be cleared to play this season." Fifteen minutes later, Fabien Levy, Adams' press secretary, responded with a quote-tweet: "Here's a better interpretation: Everyone in NYC should go get vaccinated and then they can go back to normal life!"
Adams has said publicly that he wants to see Irving play in New York City. He said it twice in 70 seconds on CNBC, adding that "I would do anything to get that ring" and that he has talked to Nets owner Joe Tsai about Irving's situation. Adams has given no indication, however, that the city is about to lift its private-sector vaccination mandate. That mandate was not put in place to stop Irving specifically from playing in New York; it is a public-health measure that covers the millions of people who work in the city.
"We want to find a way to get Kyrie on the court," Adams said. "But this is a bigger issue."