As the NBA embarks on another season with COVID-19 looming in the background, the focus has shifted from social distancing and mask-wearing, to getting players vaccinated around the league. Including players who have received the first dose, the league has now reached a 95 percent vaccination rate of its players, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Although the league isn’t making it mandatory for players to get vaccinated, in cities like New York City and San Francisco where there are vaccine mandates, players are required to be vaccinated in order to play in home games. Already Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins tried to get a religious exemption from the vaccine, which the league denied. The Brooklyn Nets are also dealing with a similar situation, as there’s reportedly a possibility of Kyrie Irving sitting out home games so he doesn’t have to get the vaccine. In both instances, Irving and Wiggins will need to be vaccinated to play on their home floor, which would greatly hinder their respective teams if they choose not to get the shot.
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But in the case of Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, he isn’t required to get vaccinated to play at Amway Center, and it doesn’t sound like he plans on doing so, either. Isaac is leaning on his devout religious belief as to why he’s not getting vaccinated, saying of the scientists who developed the vaccines: “you can’t always put your trust completely in people,” per the Rolling Stone.
Isaac feels like unvaccinated players are being “vilified and bullied,” and calls the pressure from the NBA to get vaccinated an “injustice.” In regards to the league’s COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated players versus vaccinated players, Isaac doesn’t agree with that, either.
“You can play on the same court. We can touch the same ball. We can bump chests. We can do all those things on the court. And then when it comes to being on the bus, we have to be in different parts of the bus? To me, it doesn’t seem logically consistent,” Isaac said. “If you are vaccinated, in other places you still have to wear the mask regardless. It’s like, ‘OK, then what is the mask necessarily for? And if Kyrie says that from his position of his executive power in the NBPA, then kudos to him.”
In response to players like Isaac, Irving and Wiggins who are choosing not to get vaccinated, NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ripped their stance and expressed disappointment in them choosing not to get vaccinated.
“They are failing to live up to the responsibilities that come with celebrity. Athletes are under no obligation to be spokespersons for the government, but this is a matter of public health,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “By not encouraging their people to get the vaccine, they’re contributing to these deaths. I’m also concerned about how this perpetuates the stereotype of dumb jocks who are unable to look at verified scientific evidence and reach a rational conclusion.”
With training camps now open, it appears as though the NBA will be dealing with this issue over the course of the season. If there are other players like Isaac who play in cities without vaccine mandates who refuse to get vaccinated, then the hopes of the league getting to 100 percent vaccination rate seem unlikely.