For most of the last month, the biggest story in the NBA has been a mystery: Why hasn’t Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving been vaccinated against Covid-19? Irving, who at this point reporters are practically required by law to describe as “mercurial,” has been outspoken about many issues, from racial justice to flat earth theories. But on the matter of the Covid-19 vaccine he has hitherto been oddly silent, despite the extraordinary implications of his decision: Not only could his absence cost his team a shot at the title, it could also cost him millions of dollars, possibly even hundreds of millions. Irving would be barred from playing in Brooklyn by New York City’s vaccination regulations, which means he stands to lose at least $17 million—and because he wasn’t going to be playing, the Nets had reportedly tabled a massive contract extension worth much much more.
On Tuesday evening, that mystery was finally solved—sort of. Shams Charania, The Athletic’s resident NBA scoophound, cracked the case. According to his report, written in tortured prose even by his dismal standards, Irving wasn’t being held captive by misinformation or a fear of needles. He wasn’t even concerned about how the vaccine might affect his conditioning. Instead, Charania wrote—citing multiple unnamed sources—Irving was neither “anti-vaccine” nor “anti-science” but had instead embarked on a quest that was “bigger than basketball.” That quest: serving as a “voice for the voiceless” against vaccine mandates that he felt were unfairly costing people their jobs. Irving was, per Charania, “challenging a perceived control of society and people’s livelihood, according to sources with knowledge of Irving’s mindset.”
While every piece that Charania writes becomes a dogged adventure for his readers, it nevertheless takes very little time to realize Irving’s position is, at best, nonsensical. For one thing, job losses related to vaccine mandates are a recent—and still relatively rare—phenomenon that have only impacted a small number of people. Irving’s own decision not to get the vaccine long preceded their existence. Moreover, the “voiceless” are quite well represented. One need only turn on Fox News or listen to any elected Republican official speak for a couple of minutes to see that they have more than adequate representation. Besides, if this really was Irving’s rationale, he could have easily said so weeks ago and we could have put this matter behind us without several weeks of charades. Now Irving’s actions should be understood as a sort of trial balloon: the soft launch of a justification he had belatedly reached for not getting the vaccine into the P.R. sphere. In Charania, he found a credulous reporter who would serve as his mouthpiece—as long as it got him a “scoop” he could publish a few minutes before another reporter.