The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kyrie Irving wants to leave a legacy. With his stance on vaccination, he just might.

The Nets’ Kyrie Irving wants to keep his vaccination status “private,” he said Monday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
4 min

Kyrie Irving is too smart for you. He’s so smart, he can outwit germs and governments. He’s so smart, you can’t understand a word he’s saying. That’s how smart he is. His genius is utterly indecipherable to you and me, and while you may wish for some insight into the exquisite, diamond-chip workings of his multifaceted mind, you are not entitled to them because he prefers to keep them “private.”

Irving is so smart that everything he says sounds like a mystery unless it’s a contradiction. “I’m a human being first,” he said in refusing to share whether he is vaccinated against the coronavirus or to comment on whether he is anti-vaccine, as has been reported, a stance that could imperil other human beings because the vaccines reduce the chance of spread.

Given that New York City requires vaccination for indoor events, including sports arenas, will Irving be vaccinated for the opening of the season? “There’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie, but I would like to keep that private,” Irving responded with a sense of his own unique and unquestionable importance. His remarks came via Zoom at the Brooklyn Nets’ media event Monday, presumably because he is unvaccinated and thus by law could not join the proceedings.

“Obviously I’m not able to be present there today,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m putting any limits on the future on my being able to join the team. And I just want to keep it that way.”

I’m sorry — keep it which way? Present or non-present?

Pfizer, partnering with BioNTech, and Moderna have created effective coronavirus vaccines that scientists hope will lead to medical breakthroughs using mRNA. (Video: Joshua Carroll, Brian Monroe/The Washington Post)

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Find the meaning in his sentences. You can’t do it. He’s just too smart for you — you can only try to glimpse him as he wanders through his own musing thoughts while you trail along like a child lost in a hedge maze.

He’s a gentle philosopher king and a spiritual seeker who wants to leave a “service legacy on the Earth,” he said. It isn’t only whimsical bluster; he has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the homeless and the hungry, to Native Americans and Black students, to social justice causes and international relief efforts. But he can’t seem to serve his own teammate LaMarcus Aldridge, who briefly retired last season with a heart condition, by getting a coronavirus jab. He adopts the air of a laureate as he talks flat-Earth theory. He once said he has never seen a “real” picture of the globe and spoke of doing his “own research” into the actual shape of the planet.

You might ask yourself the shallow question, “What do his private beliefs have to do with his ability to play home games?” You might ask why he won’t clarify whether he expected to even be available to his team for home games, given a statement by one of his relatives in Rolling Stone suggesting he might skip homestands this season to avoid the “oppressing” nature of the city’s vaccine law — a public health issue?

“Please, just respect my privacy,” he repeated. “All the questions kind of leading into what’s happening, just please — everything will be released at a due date, and once we get this cleared up … I’m just excited to enjoy this day by day and the journey, man. However this comes, the ups, the downs, the good, the bad — I know that I’ll be there every day no matter what and just be present for my teammates as one of the leaders on the team.”

I’m sorry — you’ll be “there,” meaning where? And what exactly do you take people for?

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You might ask, in your puny-brained superficial way, how a man who signed a contract worth $136 million over four years — some of whose pay comes from the ticket-buying and viewing public — justifies keeping an entire franchise and city in a state of distracted uncertainty. “We trust in Kyrie, and I expect us to have our whole team at some point,” teammate Kevin Durant said stonily during the media event.

You might ask whether Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t have a point in his scathing essay when he accuses the NBA’s vaccine resistors — such as Washington’s Bradley Beal, who announced at Wizards media day Monday that he declined to be vaccinated for “personal reasons” — of dangerous abdication of public responsibility and diminishment of the dangers with their inarticulacy. They treat it “like it’s just a matter of personal preference, like ordering no onions on your burger at a drive-thru,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote angrily.

More than 2,000 Americans are dying a day from covid-19 — soon there will be 700,000 lost American lives. The inability of these NBA influencers to mount any real, graspable, articulable counterargument to vaccination “dehumanizes the victims as nothing more than political fodder,” Abdul-Jabbar writes.

You might ask yourself, in your dull and foolish way, if Irving is really so much smarter than everyone else — smarter than all the science that shows vaccinated people are less likely to breathe the virus hell on others? Or are these revealing statements of arrogance from someone whose condescension and self-regard are such that he would look at spray paint on a concrete wall and tell you he can read hieroglyphs if he thinks it will make him sound important?

“Those who claim they need to do ‘more research’ are simply announcing they have done no research,” Abdul-Jabbar charges. Dimwit that Abdul-Jabbar is, it’s nevertheless a point — maybe the smartest anyone has made yet.