For the first time this season since October, Kyrie Irving was back practicing with the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday, giving the team a much-needed boost and renewed optimism for their championship hopes.
“Incredibly grateful just to be back in the building; welcome back with open arms from my teammates and the whole entire organization. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been relatively tough to watch from the sideline with everything going on in the world,” said Irving. “But if I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with some of my teammates and even if it’s on the road for away games, I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
The Nets had contemplated using Irving for away games only after the 10-year veteran said he would not get vaccinated.
New York City requires that people have at least one dose of the vaccine to enter restaurants, gyms, and other large venues, making the unvaccinated Irving ineligible for all home games and games against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Due to Canada’s recent vaccination requirement changes, Irving is also ineligible to travel to Toronto to play against the Raptors.
Still, as NBA COVID health and safety protocols have decimated lineups throughout the league the past month and an unheard-of number of NBA G League players have been called up, the Nets decided it was time to bring Irving back into the mix.
“They [Nets] said ‘we want you back,’ and I said absolutely. This is where I always wanted to be,” said Irving.
“He looks great considering he just came out of protocols and hasn’t played basketball,” coach Steve Nash told reporters, per ESPN.
“It’s still a shifting landscape,” Nash said of where Irving is physically. “I couldn’t give you an answer, but as far as seeing him in the flesh today, he looked as well as you could expect considering everything that’s happened in the last few weeks.”
Despite not having Irving and losing multiple players to health and safety protocols, including Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets have managed to put up a 23-9 record for the best in the Eastern Conference.
“I am just looking forward to that first game, whether it be kind of [Jan. 5] or somewhere after that, however, I can get back in shape at an optimum level and be productive; that is what I am aiming on,” said Irving.