Vaccine mandates

New York City to Unvaxxed NBA Star Kyrie Irving: You Can Come to the Arena, but You Can't Play

The city's private employer vaccine mandate is not just an overreaching policy; it's now a completely nonsensical and ineffective one.


A week after New York City supposedly lifted its vaccine mandate, unvaccinated basketball superstar Kyrie Irving is still not allowed to take the court for the Brooklyn Nets.

He's allowed to be in the arena with thousands of other people, to join his teammates in the locker room, and to visit bars, restaurants, and clubs in the city. None of those activities require showing proof of vaccination anymore. But the city regards him as a COVID risk if he sets foot on the court, thanks to an ongoing mandate that all employees for private businesses must be vaccinated.

The rule doesn't make much sense to Irving's teammates.

"It's ridiculous. I don't understand it at all," Nets star forward Kevin Durant told reporters Sunday after dropping 53 points against their crosstown rival, the New York Knicks. "It just didn't make any sense. Like, there's unvaxxed people in this building already. We got a guy who can come into the building—I guess, are there fearing our safety? I don't get it."

"It's just stupid," Durant added, before telling Mayor Eric Adams to "figure this out."

It's hard to argue with that assessment.

There always were some big loopholes in New York City's vaccine mandate. Irving wasn't allowed to play when the Nets hosted the Sacramento Kings on February 14, but the Kings' Justin Holliday, who is also unvaccinated, was allowed to play because the rules contained an exemption for visiting players. "I think if ultimately that rule is about protecting people who are in the arena, it just doesn't quite make sense to me that an away player who's unvaccinated can play in Barclays but the home player can't," NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN at the time.

The situation got more absurd on March 7, when Adams rolled back the city's indoor mask and vaccine mandates but did not lift the private employer vaccine mandate, which requires that anyone working in person for a New York City–based company be vaccinated.

As a result, Irving is still being kept off the court—even though, as Durant pointed out on Sunday, unvaccinated New Yorkers are free to attend Nets games.

Regardless of how you feel about vaccine mandates, it should be obvious that this arrangement is just plain dumb. For the mandate to be at all effective as a public health measure, it would have to exclude Irving from the arena entirely. As it currently stands, the city's policy says that unvaccinated people can crowd into the arena to watch unvaccinated players on visiting teams play. It allows an unvaccinated Irving to sit on the bench, breathing the same air as the spectators and other players. But if he steps on the court, the public would be at risk?

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Lebron James chimed in on Twitter to highlight the absurdity.

Irvine is hardly the only worker negatively affected by these confusing and contradictory rules. An unvaccinated New Yorker, under the current rules, could legally visit any bar in the city that would have him—but would be banned from mixing cocktails or pouring beer in the same venue. A performer could watch any show on Broadway, sitting amid hundreds of other people, but would not be allowed to sing, dance, act, or even get paid to clean up an empty theater after everyone has gone home. Because that's a public health risk, obviously.

New York City's private employer mandate—like the similar one that the Supreme Court blocked at the federal level—should never have been imposed in the first place. It was and is an unjustified intrusion of government power into the private working arrangements made by employers and employees.

And now that the city's public officials have decided vaccine mandates are no longer necessary to protect the public, it's not just an overreaching policy—it's a completely nonsensical and ineffective one.