Kyrie Irving enjoyed it: a crowd eager for his return and his belief that he had won the battle he fought this season against vaccine warrants. When asked about the game, after Sunday night’s 119-110 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, he smiled.
He called it “historic”: being able to play for the Brooklyn Nets. He said he had tried to stay on the ground as he prepared for the warm reception he would receive.
“I don’t know what happened tonight,” Irving said.
Just in time for the baseball season and the NBA playoffs, New York City created an exception to its private sector coronavirus vaccine mandate that allows local athletes and artists to work in the city independently. of their vaccination status. That announcement on Thursday meant that Irving, who has refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19, could finally play at home.
“Now we can move on,” Irving said. “Now that everyone can move on, especially in the locker room. Limited distractions, no fear. We will be better next game. “
His team, which started the season with championship expectations, is now fighting for a place in the playoffs. Irving’s return could give the Nets some stability, finally, after a season without him. But in their first game at the Barclays Center, the Nets lost, and time is running out for them to develop the cohesion they will need to make a career this postseason.
“This is the situation we are in,” said striker Kevin Durant. “It simply came to our notice then. I mean, you know, it’s a challenge. Everyone is going through challenges this season as a team. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. “
Irving had been playing in the Nets’ home arena for almost 10 months. On Sunday night, the crowd of 18,166 people, a record number for a Nets game at the Barclays Center, greeted him.
Before the game, a fan who showed up on the video board simply shouted “Kyrie,” pulling the final vowel. Irving received the strongest joy from any player when the starting lineups were introduced.
Just before the start, he put the Nets logo in the middle of the court with the marker camera attached to it. The fans roared and Irving pointed at them, turning to recognize each side of the arena.
“It was great to see him out there,” Durant said. “It’s good to see the fans excited about him.”
When Covid-19 vaccines became available, the NBA created separate protocols, making it much easier for players who received a vaccine to stay active and participate in team activities. Although New York City law and the NBA’s insistence that teams follow local guidelines had prevented Irving from playing at home, he was allowed to play on the road while following stricter testing protocols.
The Nets initially said they were not interested in a part-time participant, but later changed their minds. Since January 5, Irving has been a part-time player, preparing for road games.
His stance against getting a coronavirus vaccine is unusual in the league. The NBA and its players’ union now say 97% of players have been vaccinated and 75% have received a booster shot that has killed more than 40,000 people in New York City.
Recently, as the city began to loosen restrictions, Irving’s teammates began to sting for his return to home games. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said the law made no sense because it allowed unvaccinated players from visiting teams to play.
On Thursday, suspiciously near the start of the baseball season, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced an exception for local athletes and performers, creating Irving’s debut at Barclays.
“It’s not just Kyrie’s talent, the continuity she offers playing at home,” said coach Steve Nash. “But the amount of minutes and the amount of load on the papers that the guys have to take on when he’s not here.”
The date of his debut was not ideal. The Nets arrived home shortly before dawn on Sunday after playing Saturday night in Miami.
Irving missed his first five shots and was 6 of 22, but that didn’t calm the crowd’s vocal appreciation for him.
“Feeling a kind of anticipation,” Irving said.
He only made two of his first 17 shots, but was more efficient in the fourth quarter, making three shots in a row to tie the game at 104. public. he sang his name.
Earlier this season, even without Irving, the Nets met in the first quarter of the conference, with Durant and James Harden contributing to the victories. But they lost 21 games in a row due to a knee injury. Harden was traded to Philadelphia in February by Ben Simmons, who has yet to play for the Nets.
There are only seven regular season games left for the Nets. They are now tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and would be ninth in the tiebreaker if the season ended today. This is a top-ranked position that would require them to win two play-in games just to get into the playoffs.
It was pointed out to Nash that the Nets could now have an initial five that they can count on for the rest of the season. He smiled wryly at the suggestion.
“We are very hesitant to pretend that this will be the way it is,” he said.
His season has been too unstable for Nash to rely on.