Kyrie Irving, other unvaccinated athletes can play in home games, New York mayor says

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11)  drives against Orlando Magic guard R.J. Hampton (13)
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and other athletes who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 now are exempt from New York’s vaccine mandate for workers.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

New York mayor Eric Adams exempted athletes and entertainers from the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate following weeks of pressure from the sports world. The rule has prevented Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving from playing in home games and was expected to block several baseball players from taking the field in their upcoming season.

Adams, speaking at Citi Field where the New York Mets play, said Thursday that he had signed the order, and the exemption was effective immediately.

“I’m going to make some tough choices. People are not going to agree with some of them.” Adams said. “I must move this city forward.”


Adams contended that making athletes and entertainers exempt was important for the city’s economic recovery, saying “players attract people to the stadium.”

The city’s sweeping vaccine mandate for workers will still apply to people with other types of jobs, including private workers and government employees. Critics of the mayor’s decision, including several public employee unions whose members were fired for refusing to get vaccinated, blasted the mayor for seeming to lift the rule only for wealthy and famous athletes.

Adams’ predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, made vaccination mandatory as a workplace safety rule before leaving office last year.

Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard each scored 24 points, but it wasn’t enough in the Lakers’ 126-121 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Adams had said he felt the vaccine rule was unfair when it came to athletes and entertainers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor, allowed visiting players and entertainers who aren’t based in New York to still play or perform there, even if they are unvaccinated.

Irving, a vaccine holdout, had been among the most high-profile people affected. He was able to rejoin the team in January, but only when they played out-of-town games. When New York lifted rules several weeks ago requiring a vaccine to dine in a restaurant, work out at a gym or attend a performance, Iving was allowed to watch the Nets’ home games but not play or enter the locker room.

The Nets need him as they push for a playoff spot with nine games left in their regular season.

Concerns had been raised this that the rule would also affect Major League Baseball.

New York Yankees star Aaron Judge refused to directly answer a question about his vaccine status earlier this month, leading to speculation that another New York team would be hobbled by a player’s refusal to get inoculated.

Clippers assistant coach Jay Larrañaga has spent his life watching his father, current Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, succeed during March Madness.

When asked Wednesday about the rule being lifted, Judge said he was “happy Kyrie can play some home games.”

The Yankees, who open their season at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 7, said earlier this month that the team president was “working with City Hall and all other appropriate officials on this matter.” The Yankees declined to comment Wednesday.

Mets owner Steve Cohen gave $1.5 million to a political action committee supporting Adams during his 2021 campaign. Adams is an avowed Mets fan.