NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 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.
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.
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.
‘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.’
The NBA have said that teams do not have to pay players for games missed due to a lack of vaccination, which could see Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving, who is on a four-year, $136million deal, suffer substantial losses.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (left) wants unvaccinated NBA players, such as Golden State Warriors small forward Andrew Wiggins (right), kicked off teams unless they chance their stance
The NBA announced on Friday that it has denied Wiggins’ religious exemption to avoid vaccination as it orders players to get double-jabbed ahead of the new 2021-2022 season
The issue around player vaccination is becoming increasingly fraught across the NBA with New York City and San Francisco changing the landscape 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.
This is particularly problematic for Warriors small forward Andrew Wiggins, who has elected not to be vaccinated.
His request for religious exemption was denied by the league and a failure to alter his stance on vaccination would see Wiggins ineligible for the Warriors’ 41 home games.
In a bid to change Wiggins’ stance the Warriors, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, put their forward in touch with a doctor who ‘explained the suffering and deaths she has witnessed in patients who contracted the coronavirus’. The player is said to have been unmoved by the doctor’s testimony.
Wiggins, who is contracted to earn more than $31m in 2021-22, still has time to change his mind as San Francisco’s mandate doesn’t take effect until the middle of next month. Training camps open today.
That mandate requires everyone aged 12 and above to be vaccinated to attend big indoor events.
Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Irving sat out media day on Monday but he remotely refused to shed any light on his vaccination status. Also at media day, Washington Wizards’ franchise star Bradley Beal 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.
Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined that black Americans have the slowest uptake of at least one dose of vaccination, standing at 35.7 per cent.
During an interview on Don Lemon Tonight on Monday, Abdul-Jabbar doubled down and said any unvaccinated players are acting as bad team-mates and citizens.
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
Wiggins will have to sit out on the Golden State Warriors’ home games next season, played at Chase Center (pictured) if he doesn’t follow the NBA and San Francisco’s vaccine mandate
BIG NAMES WHO ARE NOT YET VACCINATED
Andrew Wiggins (Golden State Warriors) – Requested religious exemption but was refused. Unable to play in home games if he remains unvaccinated due to strict legislation across San Francisco.
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 on Monday 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’.
He said: ‘I don’t think that they are behaving like good team-mates or good citizens.
‘This is a war that we’re involved in. And masks and vaccines – they are the weapons that we use to fight this war.’
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.
By contrast the WNBA, who also did not agree to mandated vaccination, achieved 99 per cent player vaccination by June.
Across the 2020-21 season more than 75 positive coronavirus tests were detailed by the NBA players’ union, many of which arrived before mass vaccination had been rolled out.
Irving is a complex individual across the league and sat out a number of games last season for personal reasons.
Addressing issues around vaccination, Irving said: ‘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.’
Abdul-Jabbar was later pushed on his thoughts on Irving’s remarks and the Los Angeles Lakers icon simply couldn’t accept the shooting guard ‘hiding behind’ procedure.
The 74-year-old told CNN’s Don Lemon: ‘He’s hiding behind procedure here. Either you understand what’s going on and you’re going to do the right thing, or you don’t understand what’s going on and you’re going to continue to create all this confusion with your stance.’
In the original report by Rolling Stone it was detailed that around 50 to 60 NBA players have still to take the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. There are typically around 450 active players in the NBA.
Teams such as the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets have gone public in revealing their organizations are 100 per cent vaccinated but others are choosing to deal on a case-by-case basis.
Kryie Irving’s aunt came out fiercely in defence of the shooting guard over his vaccination status and suggested a formula could be devised to allow unvaccinated players to be involved
The 2021-22 NBA regular season begins on October 19 and it is Irving and Wiggins that are drawing the most attention given the strict legislation in place in New York City and San Francisco.
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”.’
It is unclear when Tyki Irving gave her interview in which she revealed her nephew has not been vaccinated. He offered no clarification on video link on Monday.
Washington Wizards franchise star Bradley Beal, who will earn $34m across 2021-22, revealed on Monday that he is not vaccinated despite testing positive for Covid earlier this year. He questioned why many feel they need it, warning that risks, in his opinion, are overlooked
Asked about his team-mate’s absence from media day, and the ongoing situation around his vaccination status, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant was reluctant to comment.
‘That’s on Kyrie, and that’s his personal decision,’ Durant told reporters. ‘What he does is not on us to speculate what may be happening, but we trust in Kyrie. I expect us to have our whole team at some point.’
When quizzed on why he is continuing to refuse vaccination, Wiggins said: ‘(My) back is definitely against the wall. But I’m just going to keep fighting for what I believe. And whether it’s one thing or another, get a vaccination or not get a vaccination, who knows?
‘I’m just going to keep fighting for what I believe and what I believe is right. What’s right to one person isn’t right to the other and vice versa.’