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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Basketball star Kyrie Irving refuses to take the shot that really matters

Kyrie Irving is one of the best basketball players alive. Even though he played just 11 games for Duke University because of an injury, he was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. He made the key shot in game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to give the Cleveland Cavaliers their only championship. His current team, the Brooklyn Nets, also has superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden. The new NBA season starts Tuesday night, and Brooklyn would normally be the clear favorite to win the title.

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Except for one thing: Kyrie Irving refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The state of New York requires most teenagers and adults to have at least one shot to enter a sports arena. That means Irving can’t play any of Brooklyn’s home games. And instead of having him just play on the road, the team has told him he can’t play at all until he gets vaccinated.

Irving went on Instagram Live the other day to give a long, convoluted defense of his refusal. He says he’s not against the vaccine itself but the mandate. He said it’s about what he chooses to do with his body.

Irving has always been one of the NBA’s most interesting players, and you can take that word “interesting” in a lot of ways. He celebrates his partial Native American heritage. He bought a house for the family of George Floyd. He also seems to have a sweet tooth for conspiracy theories. At one time, he appeared to believe that Earth is flat. And according to a recent Rolling Stone story, he has paid a lot of attention to misinformation about COVID vaccines.

Whatever Irving really thinks, he’s giving up a lot for his stance. By some estimates, he could lose as much as $17 million in salary if he doesn’t play this season.

He seems willing to make a big sacrifice for himself. What he doesn’t seem willing to do is make a sacrifice for others.

His teammates — especially the stars who maneuvered to play with Irving so they could win NBA titles together — can’t be thrilled that he’s walking away.

But more important, by staying unvaccinated, Irving risks infecting the people around him.

Doctors and scientists have said since the beginning of the pandemic that all these precautions — vaccines, masks, everything — aren’t just to keep you from getting sick but to keep you from making other people sick. One of the many things the pandemic has exposed is just how little some people care about the greater good.

More than 90% of NBA players are vaccinated. Far as I can tell, Irving is by far the biggest star who’s not. Anti-vaxxers are already claiming him as a role model. The Athletic had a story the other day that quoted someone close to Irving as saying Irving sees himself as a “voice to the voiceless.”

I’ll tell you the ones who are literally voiceless. Those are the more than 720,000 people in the U.S. who have died from COVID. At this point, I don’t care if Kyrie Irving plays a minute of basketball this year. I just hope he doesn’t, in any way, add to that number.

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