Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving agrees to play home games after New York City changes vaccine rule | News, Sports, Jobs

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving warms up before a game against the Grizzlies on Wednesday in Memphis, Tennessee (AP Photo)

NEW YORK – The mayor of New York exempted athletes and performers – including Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving – from the city’s vaccination mandate on Thursday, while keeping the rule in place for private and public workers who risk losing their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated.

Several public servants’ unions whose members were fired for refusing the shots have criticized Mayor Eric Adams for apparently lifting the rule only for rich and famous athletes. Adams dismissed the criticism, saying exemptions for athletes and performers were important to the city’s economic recovery.

The exemption is effective immediately. One of the first beneficiaries will be Irving, a vaccine resister who was cleared to join the Nets in January, but only when they played games out of town. The Nets need him as they push for a playoff spot with nine games left in their regular season.

Adams’ predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, made vaccinations mandatory as a workplace safety rule last year before leaving office, but created a loophole exempting players and entertainers who are not based in New York. Adams said he thought it was unfair.

“Players attract people to the stadium” Adams remarked when announcing the change during a press conference at Citi Field, where the Mets play. Accompanying him were Mets President Sandy Alderson and Yankees President Randy Levine, both of whom welcomed the decision.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, right, who is not allowed to play games in New York because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, drives against Magic guard RJ Hampton on March 15 in Orlando, Florida (AP photo)

“By putting our home teams on an even playing field, we increase their chances of winning and that has a real impact on our city,” he said.

Public service unions disagreed.

“There can’t be one system for the elite and another for the essential workers in our city,” said Harry Nespoli, chairman of the City Labor Committee, an umbrella group of unions that together represent about 350,000 city workers.

Last month, the city fired more than 1,400 workers who failed to comply with the vaccination mandate. Adams said Thursday that he has no plans at this time to rehire those workers.

The NBA and players’ union released a joint statement praising Adams’ decision.

“We commend the mayor for listening to the concerns of our New York teams, players, fans and communities and for leveling the playing field for homegrown teams and their opponents,” the statement said.

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