NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant said he hasn’t had any extra conversations with teammate Kyrie Irving about getting a COVID-19 vaccination that would allow him to play in every game this season, not just most of the road games.
Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, returned to the Nets’ lineup on Wednesday in a win over the Indiana Pacers, but is still not able to play in home games because of the vaccination mandate in New York City.
“I told him how important he is, how much I want him to play — play every game,” Durant said after a 121-109 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. “But I’m not about to force somebody to get a vaccine, like that’s not my thing. So he can play basketball? Nah, I’m not about to do that.
“We’ve had conversations about wanting him to be a part of the team and conversations about him being here full-time, but that’s on his time. Whatever decision he want to make, he’s going to make. It’s on us to be professionals no matter what, and do our jobs. All of us — from the owner down to the equipment manager — so whenever he ready, he’ll be ready.”
The Nets, 24-13, have now lost four of their past five games and have given up an average of 118 points over the that span. When asked whether he has gotten an explanation from Irving as to why he has chosen not to get the vaccine, Durant said he hasn’t asked for one.
“I haven’t even asked for an explanation,” Durant said. “It ain’t my place I don’t think. So I’m ready for whatever, that’s been my whole mentality. Whatever happens in this situation, I got to still be me, still go out there and represent the way I represent. I’m supporting whatever my team needs me to do, wants to do.
“It’s a weird situation, who knows? I don’t understand most of this s—. COVID, all of this stuff has been crazy the last few years. So me, I just try to stay centered and focus on me. When Kyrie’s ready to make decisions for himself he will, and I trust that.”
Nets guard James Harden also said that he has not discussed Irving’s vaccination status and noted it wasn’t “strange” to play without Irving again on Friday after playing with him in Wednesday’s win.
“It wasn’t strange, nah,” Harden said. “It felt good honestly to have him back. It felt good. It felt like an extra life that we had. But we got to live with what we’re dealt with and that’s home games we got to figure ways [to win]. And even road games — just ’cause Ky’s on the road with us don’t mean he’s going to be easy for us as well. So we got to mesh and we got to find ways to win games … every time we step on the floor teams are going at us, they feel like they got something to prove and we got to know that. And we got to bring that same mentality towards them.”
Durant echoed the same refrain and didn’t want to use Irving’s absence as an excuse.
“I don’t think so because we’ve been playing the majority of our games without him,” Durant said. “We’re professionals. We’re veterans. We’re supposed to know how to adapt to some s—. We’ve been playing without him all season so one game shouldn’t throw us off like that.”
The reality for the Nets is that they are now 10-10 at Barclays Center this season and 14-3 on the road. Durant brushed off the notion that it might be easier to get up for road games, especially now that the Nets know that Irving will be joining them in most of them.
Nets coach Steve Nash shared a similar thought prior to the game, noting that “we wish we had him all the time, but we’re happy that we have him half the time.”
“I hope it’s not that way,” Nash said of the idea of being more excited for road games with Irving. “I don’t know that our guys really even take a pause to think about if we’re home or road, I think it might get their juices going to get in the building on the road like, ‘Oh yeah, we got Kyrie tonight.’ But I don’t think they’re sitting at home going ‘No fun at home without Kyrie,’ ‘Fun on the road with Kyrie.'”
In the context of the Irving dynamics with the Nets, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked how he would handle a similar situation on his own team.
“When it comes to basketball, I feel like I can talk to them,” Antetokounmpo said. “When it comes to a personal decision like that, it’s … I’ve got to let them make their decision. They’re grown men. You know, and every situation is different. I cannot pressure somebody to do something that he doesn’t feel comfortable doing. I can tell you why I did it. Why I felt comfortable doing it. To protect my family, to protect my mom and stuff, stay safe, and you just hope he understands that. But if he doesn’t want to do it, I can’t keep pressuring him.
“I’ve got to focus on myself and come every day and do my job, because that’s what I get paid to do. I don’t know what relationship they have, what kind of relationship they have. They probably have talked to him but they cannot keep on pressuring him to do something he doesn’t feel comfortable because it takes so much energy and takes energy away from basketball. That’s why we’re here.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report