Kyrie Irving (287100)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

When Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal met with the media on Monday in the team’s first press event to start the new NBA season, his lack of rational knowledge regarding the COVID-19 vaccine illuminated the misinformation and disinformation permeating the national discourse.

“I would like an explanation to people with vaccines, why are they still getting COVID?” said Beal. “If that’s something we’re supposed to highly be protected from, that’s funny that it only reduces your chances of going to the hospital. It doesn’t eliminate anyone from getting COVID.”

Beal’s ostensible ignorance, defined in this context as a lack of enlightenment, is troubling given the amount of resources the league and individual franchises have allocated to educating players, coaches and other personnel on the vaccine. He has first-hand experience with the effects and consequences of contracting the novel coronavirus.

This past summer, Beal was precluded from competing with the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team in Tokyo, where they won a gold medal, due to health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID.

In New York City and San Francisco, where mandates require proof of vaccination with no exceptions to enter indoor venues such as bars, restaurants, gyms and sports arenas, players who have not been vaccinated, such as Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, will be disallowed to play games held at Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center and the Chase Center, home of the Warriors.

New York City regulations are less stringent than those instituted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. New York requires just one dose to gain entry while in San Francisco, full vaccination is mandatory. Wiggins, who is vaccine hesitant, endeavored to circumvent the obligatory guidelines by seeking a religious exemption, but his request was denied last week by the league.

At the Warriors media session on Monday, Wiggins asserted his decision regarding the vaccine is “private” and “personal” and added, “I’m confident in my beliefs, what I think is right and what I think is wrong.” Wiggins also offered up this caustic response when asked to explain his beliefs: “It’s none of your business.” 

The Nets’ Kyrie Irving also presents a potential setback for his team, which is currently favored by major sports betting entities to win the 2022 title. He was not present at the Barclay’s Center on Monday for the Nets’ gathering with the media, but cryptically addressed the subject of him being unvaccinated remotely.

“Living in this public sphere, there’s a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie,” said the 29-year-old, seven-time All-Star, “and I would love to just keep that private and handle that the right way with my team and go forward with a plan.”

In a recent story published in Rolling Stone, writer Matt Sullivan put forth “Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that ‘secret societies’ are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for ‘a plan of Satan.’ This Moderna microchip misinformation campaign has spread across multiple NBA locker rooms and group chats, according to several of the dozen-plus current players, Hall-of-Famers, league executives, arena workers and virologists interviewed for this story over the past week.”

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, arguably the greatest basketball player ever, offered a solution to the vaccine dilemma to Rolling Stone. “The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team,” he suggested.

“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.”

It is a polarizing issue that will continue to be debated, and potentially have sizable repercussions on the court and by extension the league’s financial bottom line.