Former NBA player John Salley defended Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving over his decision not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, causing him to miss a significant number of games this season.
Salley praised Irving for his commitment to evaluating what goes into his body this week.
“I think Kyrie Irving is the premier athlete — professional,” Salley said during an interview with TMZ. “I think he’s conscious. I think he thinks it through. I think it’s very important that people pay attention too, he’s not into the lies, the glitz. He’s into taking care of his body.”
Salley explained that Irving does his own research but is ridiculed because his beliefs fall outside the mainstream view.
John Salley attends PETA’s 35th anniversary party at Hollywood Palladium on September 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic via Getty )
“I’m the biggest Kyrie fan,” Salley said. “Everything he does, I take my hat off to him.”
The NBA did not have a vaccine mandate for its players this season but because of a local mandate for New York City-based businesses that was in place for most of the season, Irving was prohibited from playing home games.
Irving was still allowed to play in road games and unvaccinated players competing for visiting teams were still permitted to play in New York City arenas.
The Nets had initially decided against letting Irving play at all since they did not want him to only be a part-time player. But a COVID outbreak in December that led to several players missing games forced the team’s hand and Irving began playing in road games starting Jan. 5.
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Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving reacts after hitting a basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of the opening basketball game of the NBA play-in tournament Tuesday, April 12, 2022, in New York.
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
“You have a guy who didn’t get the virus, and everybody who talked about smack about him got it really bad,” Salley said. “He had a very strong immune system.”
New York City mayor Eric Adams eased COVID mandates in early March to allow unvaccinated people to go inside bars, gyms and large venues such as sporting arenas, a rule that allowed Irving to attend games at the Nets home arena as a fan but that still barred him from suiting up for his team.
Later that month, Adams again updated COVID restrictions to let unvaccinated athletes and entertainers perform in the city, allowing Irving to play in every Nets game for the remainder of the season.
The Nets have suggested that they may not want to re-sign Irving to a long-term contract, though it remains unclear what exactly the organization’s intentions are. Irving has a $36.5 million player option this summer, allowing him to opt into the deal for next season or decline it and test his value on the free agent market.
Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during Round 1 Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs on April 25, 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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And according to reports, Irving’s shoe deal with Nike might not be extended beyond next season.
The Nets finished the season with the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics.
“I watch how he plays,” Salley said. “His dribbling, handling; he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.”