NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Monday that he would have “preferred” that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association come to an agreement on a vaccine mandate, in part to avoid it becoming an “adversarial” issue for the league’s players, as it has for Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving.
“I won’t try to speak for [the NBPA], other than the view that some players had, I think — including maybe some players who are vaccinated — that it should be an individual choice among the players,” Silver said during his annual preseason news conference, which was conducted virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would have preferred that ultimately that the Players Association agreed to mandatory vaccinations. The officials union agreed to mandatory vaccinations, despite opposition from some of their members. But ultimately I think we could have avoided a lot of the adversarial nature of these issues for our players. It’s not so much with the league. I think that gets confused in some cases.
“This is between Irving and New York City right now. This is not a league issue … but I think it would have been best for everyone if every player were vaccinated.”
Irving is the lone NBA player who, as of Monday, is unable to play this season because of a vaccine mandate. New York City enacted a mandate last month that requires anyone going to a public gym, like Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, to get at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. San Francisco passed a similar law that went into effect last week, but which required individuals to be fully vaccinated.
While Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins eventually got vaccinated, clearing him to play, and the New York Knicks are fully vaccinated, Irving is the lone Nets player who has decided not to get the vaccine, and therefore is ineligible to play games at either Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden. It’s a decision that, if he sticks with it for the entire season, could cost him close to $20 million.
Visiting players, however, are exempt from the law, meaning that Irving is the only one who is unable to play as a result. Silver said he has heard nothing about the possibility of the vaccine mandate in New York being eased at any point this season.
When asked if it is “fair” that Irving is unable to play while other unvaccinated players — like Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal — are able to play without issue, Silver said that the framing of the question was off.
“I’m not sure if fair is the right way to approach it because there’s nothing fair about this virus,” Silver said. “It’s indiscriminate in terms of who it impacts, and I think it’s perfectly appropriate that New York and other cities have passed laws that require people who both work and visit arenas to be vaccinated. That seems to be a responsible public health decision made by those locales, and those are the circumstances in which the Nets find themselves operating.
“I accept that. I think that we understand as a league we have to play the cards that are dealt, just in the same way there are variations from market to market. I know there are players in some markets who would prefer that their local governments pass ordinances requiring that all the fans be vaccinated who are in the buildings with them.
“We’ll see how it plays out. I mean, frankly I hope that Kyrie sort of — despite how strongly he feels about the vaccination — ultimately decides to get vaccinated because I’d love to see him play basketball this season, and I’d love to see the Brooklyn Nets have their full complement of players on the floor.”
Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated, in addition to comments made by Beal and others about the vaccine, have caused plenty of commentary on social media and elsewhere, which prompted Silver to be asked if that was something he was concerned about.
Silver said he was and that he’s always encouraged players to speak their minds on issues they believe in. But, he said, he doesn’t believe that someone’s personal opinions automatically becomes their right, and pointed to Irving’s situation as an example.
“… I think that gets lost sometimes, that having an opinion about whether to get vaccinated is different than your right to play NBA basketball,” Silver said. “We’re seeing that, for example, in the New York market right now, when there’s a conflict with a player’s point of view and the local law, and the local law is going to trump that player’s point of view.
“I’ve always tried to ensure that players feel comfortable using this platform that the league affords them. I don’t mean literally the league. Just by being a famous NBA player, that they use it responsibly, that they educate themselves on points of view, but they also are respected in return.
“I hope that to the extent that players continue to express points of view on a variety of topics that those points of view are respected. Again, that doesn’t mean that either the league will necessarily agree with them or fans will, but that fans will respect them for doing that, as long as it doesn’t cross certain lines of vulgarity or hate speech … there’s obviously some other categories where people shouldn’t go as representatives of this league.”
• Silver said the NBA’s investigation into possible tampering by the Chicago Bulls in their sign-and-trade deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Lonzo Ball and the Miami Heat in their sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors for Kyle Lowry was “ongoing.” He declined to give a timeline for when that investigation would be completed.
“From a league standpoint, we’re just trying to create a level playing field,” Silver said. “We tried to reset two years ago and make that absolutely clear to our teams, that going forward, to the extent we could, we would be strictly enforcing these rules, and that’s what we’re dealing with right now.”
• On the topic of expansion, Silver said he has yet to set foot in Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, the renovated former Key Arena and the home of the NHL’s expansion team, the Seattle Kraken. He added that expansion isn’t something the league will pursue until it gets fully onto the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that at some point we’ll take a very serious look at potential expansion,” Silver said, “and as I’ve said before, Seattle is one of those cities that we have our eye on. We had great success there in the past, and the fact now that they have a state-of-the-art arena back online only increases their prospects. But it’s premature to get more specific than that.”
• Silver said it is “unclear” whether the NBA will return to state-run CCTV in China this season. The NBA has not had any games aired on it since Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of protesters in Hong Kong two years ago this month.
• Silver once again said that he’s a proponent of adding a midseason tournament to the NBA schedule, but that the most work will have to be done not just in creating the format, but convincing the players it is a worthwhile endeavor.
“But we have a fair amount of work still to do on it and a lot of convincing to do,” he said. “I know that for some of the players I’ve talked to directly, they have trouble, I think, envisioning the benefit of another form of competition when they’re so focused on the Larry O’Brien Trophy and don’t necessarily see us being able to create a new tradition.
“My response to that, especially having been with the league now for so long, is that these things take time. I think we’re in a position where we should be taking a long-term view looking at those changes in society around us and looking at — and it’s a responsibility of the league office to look out into the future on these things.”
• Silver said he’s “optimistic” that the NBA’s All-Star Game in Cleveland next February will be able to be celebrated in something close to a normal fashion this year, as the league works to come out of the other side of the ongoing pandemic. The league is announcing its 75th anniversary team across both ESPN and TNT over the next few days, beginning on TNT Tuesday night.