Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan said he is a ‘firm believer in science’ and that he backed the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) stance on Covid-19 vaccinations ahead of the new season starting on October 19.
The topic of unvaccinated players across the league has dominated discussions in the lead-up to the season opener, with Brooklyn Nets’ guard Kyrie Irving the most high profile player to opt out of vaccination.
The NBA does not require its players to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to play but referees and other staff who have close contact with players are required to be fully vaccinated to continue in their roles.
But the league – who have said 95 per cent of players have taken at least one vaccine – have also ensured unvaccinated players must comply with a long list of restrictions to play in games and take part in team activities such as practice.
For six-time champion and Hall of Famer Jordan, who played 13 seasons with the Bulls and currently owns the Charlotte Hornets, said he was not concerned by the league’s protocols.
Michael Jordan has given his backing to the NBA’s protocol on Covid-19 vaccination as the Chicago Bulls legend and Charlotte Hornets owner said he is a ‘firm believer in science’
Kyrie Irving (left) and Bradley Beal (right) are among the high profile unvaccinated players
‘Not at all. I’m total in unison with the league,’ Jordan said on NBC’s Today show on Monday.
‘I’m a firm believer in science and I’m going to stick with that and hopefully everybody abides by whatever the league sets the rules.
‘I think once everybody buys in, we’re going to be fine.’
The issue around player vaccination is increasingly fraught in New York City and San Francisco with city mandates changing the landscape back in August.
Both cities announced that they require that NBA players on home teams be vaccinated or they will be refused entry into arenas, directly affecting the Knicks, Nets and Golden State Warriors.
Entry to the Warriors’ Chase Center requires double vaccination whereas Knicks and Nets players are required to have at least one dose to be made eligible.
The Knicks organisation announced that all players have been vaccinated but Irving, who is on a four-year, $136million deal, continues to prove a headache for the Nets’ front office.
The NBA announced in September that unvaccinated players who do not comply with local vaccination mandates – only in force in New York City and San Francisco – do not need to be paid for the games they miss.
Irving is currently looking at missing 41 home games at the Barclays Center as well as away games against the Toronto Raptors as Canada is not allowing unvaccinated visitors into the country.
If Irving does not change his vaccination stance and misses every home game, he’s set to lose as much as $15.6million.
‘I think we recognize he’s not playing home games,’ Nets head coach Steve Nash told reporters on Sunday.
‘We’re going to have to for sure play without him this year. So it just depends on when, where and how much.’
Brooklyn Nets’ head coach Steve Nash (middle) said that they will ‘play without’ Kyrie this year
Jordan, a six-time champion with the Bulls (pictured in 1998), is in ‘total unison’ with the NBA
Addressing issues around vaccination, Irving told reporters remotely on NBA Media Day: ‘I’m a human being first. Obviously living in this public sphere, it’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie and I think I just would love to just keep that private and handle it the right way, with my team and go forward together with the plan.’
Coming to the defence of Irving, his aunt Tyki told Rolling Stone: ‘There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way.
‘It could be like every third game. So it still gives you a full season of being interactive and being on the court, but with the limitations that they’re, of course, oppressing upon you.
‘He is going to try to figure that out as it comes, because it’s not religious-based, it’s moral-based. You may have to sit on the sideline, you might not have to be in the arena during this.
‘If it’s that freaking important to get a vaccine that, hell, it’s still not preventing the Covid – (which it does) – then I’d rather them working it out that way than to say, “Hey, if you don’t get the vaccine, then you can’t be a part of the franchise that you f***ing helped build”.’
In March Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, who is contracted to earn more than $31m in 2021-22, had said he wasn’t getting vaccinated unless he was forced to.
Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins was ineligible to play home games until he was vaccinated and he has since said he felt forced to take the vaccine to save his NBA career
The NBA previously denied Wiggins’ religious exemption to avoid the need for a vaccination
He subsequently applied for a religious exemption, but the NBA denied that request in September and earlier this month it was revealed he had since taken the vaccine.
After getting the vaccine, which makes him eligible to play in games at the Warriors’ Chase Center, which required a full vaccination, he said: ‘I feel like the only options [were] to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA.
‘It was a tough decision. Hopefully, it works out in the long run and in 10 years I’m still healthy.
‘It feels good to play, but getting vaccinated, that’s going to be something that stays in my mind for a long time. It’s not something I wanted to do, but kind of forced to.’
Discourse around player vaccination has permeated current players and owners as well as some of the greats of the game.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar last month called on teams to take a firm stance and axe unvaccinated players from their roster.
The six-time NBA champion was responding to a damning report in Rolling Stone that detailed the anti-vax stance held by a proportion of players across the league.
Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabbar, 74, shamed players who ‘are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation’ and wants to see the league impose strict penalties that would see them kicked off a team as a result.
‘The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,’ Abdul-Jabbar told Rolling Stone.
NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) wants unvaccinated NBA players, such as Orlando Magic’s Jonathan Isaac (right), kicked off teams unless they chance their stance
BIG NAMES WHO ARE NOT YET VACCINATED
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets) – Yet to officially clarify his status, Irving was absent from media day and his aunt spoke out in defence of him not being vaccinated saying that it was ‘a moral decision’ rather than religious.
Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards) – He revealed at media day last month that he is unvaccinated and went further to question why others feel the need to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic) – The Magic’s starting forward is incredibly religious and has said he is proud to be unvaccinated, having said when asked about scientists that ‘you can’t always put your trust completely in people’.
‘There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their team-mates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research.’
Washington Wizards’ franchise star Bradley Beal is not under a city mandate to be vaccinated but he revealed at NBA Media Day that he had not taken up the chance to take the vaccine before questioning why so many have done so.
He said: ‘I don’t think you can pressure anybody into doing things, or putting things in their body.’
Speaking about missing the Tokyo Olympics, in which Team USA won gold, due to a positive Covid test, Beal added: ‘I didn’t get sick at all. I lost my smell, but that was it for me. Everybody is going to react differently.
‘Some people have bad reactions to the vaccine. Nobody likes to talk about that. What happens if one of our players gets the vaccine and can’t play after that? Or they have complications after that? Because there are cases like that.’
There is currently no evidence to support Beal’s view of professional NBA players missing games due to a reaction to a Covid vaccine.
Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic has been very public that he remains unvaccinated.
‘I understand that the vaccine would help if you have COVID, you’ll be able to have less symptoms from contracting it,’ Isaac said last month. ‘But with me having Covid in the past and having antibodies, with my current age group and physical fitness level, it’s not necessarily a fear of mine.
Abdul-Jabbar (left – pictured playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982) doubled down and said any unvaccinated player poses an unnecessary risk to others on and off the court
‘Taking the vaccine, like I said, it would decrease my chances of having a severe reaction, but it does open me up to the albeit rare chance but the possibility of me having an adverse reaction to the vaccine itself.’
Back in March NBA commissioner Adam Silver was optimistic that ‘most players’ would take up the offer of a Covid vaccine.
‘I think, as to those who have been hesitators, as tens of millions of people now in the United States have gotten the vaccine, that people are seeing, at least in the short term, what the impact is, and they’re hearing about how incredibly effective these vaccines are,’ he said.
‘My hunch is that most players ultimately will choose to get vaccinated.
‘They have to make personal decisions at the end of the day – and I take that very seriously, and I take concerns very seriously. But my sense is most [players] will, ultimately, decide it is in their interest to get vaccinated.’
The NBA players’ union, unlike the referees’ union, did not agree to mandated vaccination ahead of the 2021-22 season, which starts next week.