Issue 123: How Much Money Would You Give Up to Prove a Point?

Most NBA players have received the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s been available to much of the general public in the United States for more than half a year now. Besides, these are millionaires we’re talking about, so even if it weren’t widely available, they could have probably gotten it.

But there are a handful of holdouts throughout the league. Up until recently, the highest-profile name was LeBron James. After James got vaccinated, the attention is now on his former teammate and current Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.

Irving, who seems to enjoy having contrarian point of views on just about everything, has reportedly not received the vaccine. That presents a bit of a problem for his NBA status, because New York City instilled an executive order around said vaccines. To go into the Barclays Center—home of the Nets—requires at least one vaccine shot. That also applies to Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks.

The vaccination rules only impact players that play in the respective markets. So, for Irving, he’s looking at potentially missing 41 games at home and two games at MSG, which are basically across the street.

For each of those games he misses, he’d forfeit $425,000 per game. If he went the entire season without being vaccinated, he’d only be able to play in road games. That means he’d give up more than $18 million.

Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins also stood to lose millions of dollars. He was unvaccinated heading into training camp and repeatedly refused to tell media members (or even his teammates) about his vaccination status, saying it was “my problem, not yours.”

Of course, when your decision potentially affects your entire team, from teammates to coaching staff to employees to fans, it kind of does start becoming other people’s problem.

However, as of last night, Wiggins does appear to have gotten vaccinated. He would have missed out on $350,000 per game, which would have added up to about $14.35 million in lost salary. To enter the Chase Center in San Francisco (the Warriors’ home arena), a person must be fully vaccinated.

This great Rolling Stone story from Matt Sullivan dives deeper into the anti-vaccination mindset throughout about 10% of the NBA. It also notes Irving has been liking conspiracy theory posts on Instagram that the vaccines are building “secret societies” in an effort to connect Black people to computers for “a plan of Satan.”

So…that’s where we’re at right now. The league discussed a potential mandate to get all 100% of the league vaccinated, but that seems to be off the table. And with the season starting two weeks from tomorrow, there are going to be plenty of tense moments ahead.

Looks like Hamilton was right all along. Don’t throw away your shot.