About a year and a half ago, Rudy Gobert became the first National Basketball Association (NBA) player to test positive for COVID-19, forcing the league to shut down. After months of an NBA hiatus and the development of strict health and safety protocols, the season resumed and culminated in a Los Angeles Lakers championship. Now, with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, the NBA is attempting to return to its normal state with fewer protocols and restrictions. However, a growing movement of NBA players is fighting the vaccine and standing up against the NBA’s attempted mandate.
In early October, the NBA declared that all coaches and staff are required to get the vaccine (with medical and religious exemptions), however they were unable to enforce this mandate throughout the NBA Players’ Association. The union is attempting to look out for the player’s rights, however the NBA believes that public health crises like these demand a take it or leave it approach. Currently, about 90% of the players across the league have received both doses of the vaccine, meaning there are about 40 players yet to be vaccinated. These players will undergo strict health and safety protocols similar to the “NBA Bubble” in Orlando as well as the 2020-2021 season. Furthermore, these players will be ineligible to play in New York, San Francisco, Toronto and any other city that decides to require a person to show proof of vaccination in order to enter certain indoor entertainment venues. Additionally, practically every stadium will require fans to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to enter the stadium, with increasingly strict regulations for those sitting within 15 feet of the court or benches.
All time NBA leading point scorer and UCLA alumni Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a very definitive stance on the issue: get the vaccine. He firmly believes that it is an irresponsible decision on behalf of any player deciding to jeopardize their own health, their team’s health and potentially even their success.
“The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in a Rolling Stone interview. “There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research. What I find especially disingenuous about the vaccine deniers is their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet, if their child was sick or they themselves needed emergency medical treatment, how quickly would they do exactly what those same experts told them to do?”
NBA superstars such as Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal and Andrew Wiggins are leading this charge against the vaccination. Andrew Wiggins, who sought religious exemption from the vaccine, is now required by San Francisco law to get the shot. If not, he will be ineligible to play or attend practice. Frustrated with this development, Wiggins believes that he doesn’t owe anybody an explanation for his own personal beliefs.
“Who are you guys where I have to explain what I believe, what’s right or what’s wrong,” Wiggins said to a group of reporters. “We are two totally different people. What you think is not what I think. What I think is not what you think.”
Famous for conspiracy theories, Irving is at it again. After being widely ridiculed for thinking that the Earth is flat, he is now liking and commenting on Instagram posts and accounts that claim COVID vaccines are a “plan of Satan” to connect Black people to a master computer. This misinformation is the exact lack of research that Abdul-Jabar was referring to, jeopardizing the health and safety of the league. But, with New York’s new vaccine requirements, Irving has been indefinitely banned from team practices, meetings and events. He will also be ineligible to compete at all home games, making this a pivotal decision in his career and sparking retirement rumors. But to him, it is bigger than basketball.
“I never wanted to give up my passion, my love, my dream over this mandate and what’s going on in this world,” Irving said on an extended Instagram Live broadcast. “I love the game. Sometimes you really have to make choices that ultimately can affect that. It’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are in 2021. I am a bona fide hooper. My legacy will be written forever. I’m grateful to be given this talent to be able to perform on a high stage. But it’s not just about that at this point. It’s bigger than the game.”
In an effort to minimize the push back against the vaccine mandate, the NBA is inciting strict salary penalties for all unvaccinated players. This scare tactic consists of withholding pay for all games missed, simple as that. This means Kyrie Irving will lose about $425,000 per home game. Both Irving and Wiggins would be expected to lose over $15,000,000 in salary. The NBA hopes that these harsh salary reductions will help motivate the anti-vaxxers and bring the league vaccination rate to 100%.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and they need to protect their image. They are returning to a normal 82 game format, meaning there will be limited room for COVID-19 postponements. Both the NBA and their sponsors would stand to lose millions of dollars and millions of impressions on rescheduled games. Ultimately, mandating the COVID vaccine is the smart financial decision as it will prevent these issues, but more importantly, it is the right thing to do as an individual. Every athlete should be vaccinated for the health and safety of the league, their teams and their communities and the NBA won’t rest until this is accomplished.