Basketball: Nets' vaccine holdout Irving 'grateful' for opportunity to return

Kyrie Irving has yet to play this season. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Kyrie Irving said on Wednesday (Dec 29) he's grateful to be back in training with the Brooklyn Nets and looking forward to a return to the NBA despite his decision to forego a coronavirus vaccine.

"I missed it," Irving acknowledged, as he spoke to reporters for the first time since pre-season training camp.

The All-Star guard has yet to play this season, but the Nets this month opted to welcome him back, even though his vaccination status means he won't be able to play home games at the Barclays Centre because of New York City's vaccine mandate.

The Nets had said in October that they would not allow him back until he could become a full-time player, but after a spate of Covid-19 and injury absences, the team decided that having Irving available for road games would be benefit enough.

The 29-year-old, who has tried to maintain his fitness with pick-up games and solo training, admitted he felt nervous as he looked forward to getting back on the court with his NBA peers.

But when he did, he said, he felt right at home.

"This is where I belong, this is where I've worked my entire life to be, so it was like riding a bike, or being at the first day of school again, just going back out there and I missed it," Irving said.

He is particularly eager to see what he and fellow stars Kevin Durant and James Harden can produce as the Nets try to build on their lead in the Eastern Conference and, ultimately, challenge for a championship.

"We have a lot more left in the tank but obviously, our age between us three, us being at a certain level of mastery in this game is only going to last for a certain amount of time, so we want to strike while the iron is hot," Irving said.

Nets coach Steve Nash said Irving "looks great" for a player who hasn't played all season.

In addition, he landed in the league's Covid protocols a day after the Nets announced he was returning, further limiting his practice for more than a week.

Nash said the team would have to gauge Irving's readiness, and it's not clear when his first game will be.

For the star guard, it can't be soon enough.

"It's felt like days have just been slowly being crossed off the calendar while I'm sitting at home," Irving said.

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