NBA: Irving closer to playing home games after NY mayor plans to end vax mandate

Kyrie Irving remains unavailable to play in home games due to his unvaccinated status. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Kyrie Irving could soon be available for the Brooklyn Nets when the team stage National Basketball Association (NBA) games at home.

New York City mayor Eric Adams has said he is eager to end the Covid-19 vaccine mandate, which would clear the way for the Nets to use their All-Star guard in games at the Barclays Centre.

Irving made his first appearance of the season only early last month after initially being frozen out in October for his refusal to take the shot, before being brought back into the fold due to the team's pressing need for his services.

The 29-year-old has played in road games with the Nets but, because of his unvaccinated status, he remains unavailable to play in home games.

San Francisco is the only other major American city that has imposed such a mandate on pro athletes but other big cities are already repealing Covid-19 rules with Philadelphia, Boston and soon Chicago among them.

Adams hinted on Wednesday (Feb 23) that New York might be next to follow.

"I take my hat off to New Yorkers through masks, vaccines, through social distancing. We were hit with the uncertainty, the fear of Covid. I'm very proud of how we responded," he said, without providing a timeline or estimate of when the rules could change in the Big Apple.

"Every morning, I meet with my health professionals because I always say I'm going to follow the science. I'm not going to get ahead of the science because I'm ready to get ahead of all of this and get back to a level of normalcy.

"But they're giving us clear instructions. They gave us benchmarks, we're going to follow those benchmarks. But I look forward to the next weeks going through a real transformation where I don't have to wonder what you look like.

"We're moving in the right direction. We're going to do it in a safe way."

In 14 games this season, Irving has averaged 24.1 points and 5.4 assists per game.

The Nets have 23 games remaining on their regular-season schedule, but 15 of them would be played without him due to the mandate.

Irving has recently curried support from NBA commissioner Adam Silver and some league owners who have criticised the mandate applying to players from New York-based teams, including the Knicks, but not to players visiting from other cities.

He is also sensing the mood is shifting in his favour, according to Nets coach Steve Nash.

"I sense a real focus and urgency from him. So, if that's any indication, I would say he is getting excited about the prospect of being allowed to play in all our games, and hopefully in the short term," Nash said.

"So, if the mandate is lifted, the expectation would be that he can play in all our games. I think that's what he's been waiting for, and what he's excited about. If the opportunity arises, the plan and the goal is to play every night."

Brooklyn are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 31-28 record, making them eligible for a play-in spot, but their aspirations are higher than that, having been tipped as championship contenders at the start of the season.

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