MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Kyrie Irving’s season-long ban from Brooklyn is finally over.
Mayor Eric Adams is set to announce Thursday that Irving and other unvaccinated athletes will now be allowed to play professional sports in the city as part of a major policy change. Politico was first to report the news which has since been confirmed by The Post, and will be the best possible birthday present for Irving.
And the biggest boost the Nets could have hoped for in their quest for a first-ever NBA title, going from contender to favorite.
“I would love that,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzles.
Despite the delivery, Nash’s Cheshire Cat smile told how huge it would be for Brooklyn.
Irving – who turned 30 on Wednesday – has played just 20 games all season, banned from playing in New York due to his refusal to adhere to the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates. He only made his season debut on January 5, with the situation crippling the entire season.
But this change in policy will not only impact the Nets, but could be seismic in determining the NBA Finals.
“Good,” Nash said. “I don’t want to say anything else about it.”
The change to the private sector vaccination mandate would allow an exemption for athletes and entertainers in the workplace, making Irving (along with the unvaccinated Yankees and Mets) suddenly eligible for home games. It could be announced Thursday at Citi Field.
But after Kevin Durant angered the mayor’s office by calling Adams, Nash wouldn’t be drawn to a question about the power of attraction and the impending baseball season lobby helping to move the needle.
“Umm, I don’t know if I should say anything about it now,” Nash said. “Let’s just wait and see where the chips fall.”
Since taking office on New Year’s Day, Adams has gradually and systematically relaxed the COVID policies instituted by his predecessor Bill de Blasio.
Without the change, Irving would have been eligible for only two of the Nets’ nine remaining regular-season games: Saturday in Miami and the following weekend in Atlanta. That’s about to change, and it could play a role in the Eastern Conference race.
“I’m not into politics, man. I play basketball. I take care of my kids,” center Andre Drummond said Wednesday morning of Irving’s situation. “Whatever the mayor decides to do, that’s what he does.
“I hope he makes the decision to do something to help [Irving] somehow if he has to test before games or whatever. But at the end of the day, I don’t control that. I can only control what happens on the pitch, and I hope for the best.
The best-case scenario seems to be about to happen.
Irving entered Wednesday averaging 27.7 points and was poised to repeat last season’s 50/40/90 shooting splits.
Brooklyn has a 119.3 offensive rating with Irving on the ground, the highest for any player who has averaged at least 20 minutes and played at least 10 games. And their 126.3 with Irving and Durant on the court together is the top 5 in the entire league championship.
“He’s a professional,” Drummond said. “He’s taken a stand on what he believes in, but he’s still a professional. When he returns, he does not miss a beat. He does the necessary work to make sure he doesn’t miss anything when he returns. We’re all happy when he comes back and we try to keep him going while he’s gone.
But now it looks like Irving won’t be out for every home game.
“[Wednesday is his] anniversary, so God knows what will happen,” Drummond said. “I just think on a serious note, like I said before, with Kyrie, he’s a real professional. When he steps on the floor, he hangs his hat and he does whatever he’s supposed to do, so whether it’s 50 points or six points, he has an impact regardless.