NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has run out of patience with a handful of the sport’s biggest stars and has a drastic idea of dealing with them.
The NBA is a few weeks away from returning, and you know what that means: It’s time for basketball players to get back into politics.
In recent years, we’ve seen the league grapple with the Black Lives Matter movement, China’s economic influence, and other very serious issues that have nothing to do with shooting a ball through a hoop.
And that’s fine, by the way. The idea that athletes, actors, and other celebrity beneficiaries should keep their political opinions to themselves — or “shut up and dribble,” in the famous words of one TV host — is absurd.
LeBron James has the same right to express himself as you or I. No political opinion is automatically invalid because it comes from a sportsman instead of, for example, a plumber.
But as public figures and yes, like it or not, role models, these guys have a responsibility not to spew misleading, dangerous crap at their fans in the midst of a public health crisis.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a small minority of players have done this week.
Short version: A handful of the game’s biggest stars don’t want to be vaccinated against Covid. They have maintained for the past week that it is a personal, private decision, and therefore no one else.
There they are wrong, for reasons we will discuss shortly. And yes, I get it, you probably don’t care what basketball players think about the vaccines. But their stance is representative of a broader problem that we cannot ignore.
“I think I’d like to keep that private,” Irving told reporters Monday, when asked about his vaccination status.
“Please respect my privacy regarding everything – home games, what happens with vaccination.”
Irving could miss half of his team’s games this season if he doesn’t stay vaccinated, due to local restrictions in New York. The same goes for Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins, who is subject to San Francisco rules.
Wiggins was recently denied a religious exemption from the city’s vaccination requirements.
Asked about his stance on the vaccine this week, he said he will “continue to fight for what I think is right”.
Pressured to clarify exactly what he believed to be correct, he told the questioner it was “none of your business”.
Orlando star Jonathan Isaac expressed the same opinion, albeit more eloquently.
“I believe that each person’s vaccine status should be their own choice. Completely to their liking without bullying, without being pressured, without being coerced,” said Isaac.
“I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t feel comfortable taking the vaccine right now.
“What you do with your body when it comes to putting drugs in it should be your choice, free from the ridicule and opinion of others.”
This stance has been welcomed from some quarters, most notably the conservative right, which long ago decided that anti-vaxxers who endanger other people’s health should be celebrated in the United States as champions of personal freedom.
“I’m behind Kyrie Irving. I support Andrew Wiggins,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz said. He went on to list Isaac.
Announcer Clay Travis, a Covid BS serial supplier who has downplayed the pandemic since its inception, was also a big fan.
Normally, I would expect a public leader in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic, such as Senator Cruz, to “assist” and applaud the vast majority of players who did the right thing, rather than the loud minority who pride does the wrong thing.
This is the basic truth that neither he nor the players mentioned above have understood: refuse to be vaccinated against Covid is not a personal decision.
Undergoing cosmetic surgery is a personal medical decision. Taking blood pressure medication is a personal decision. Botox is not contagious; heart attacks don’t spread through the air.
Choosing not to be vaccinated against a deadly and highly communicable disease? That decision affects everyone around you.
Let me put it a little more bluntly. Do you want to risk being killed for no good reason? That’s one thing. But when your actions endanger other people’s lives, they are no longer private. They become a matter of public interest.
The Delta variant of Covid has an R0 of 5-8, more than double the original strain. That means the average person who catches Delta passes it on to between five and eight other people.
Suppose Kyrie Irving catches the virus and spreads it to eight people. Chances are, most of them will be fine. But what if one of the eight dies from it? What if he infects an assistant coach, who then passes it on to his mother, who then dies?
These are the questions Irving should consider instead of scrolling through insane conspiracy theories on social media.
The NBA’s anti-vaxxers, the players who still write off the threat of Covid after watching 700,000 Americans die, should consult their peers, some of whom could tell them how serious the virus is.
Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum tested positive for Covid in January. Months later, still dealing with the long-term effects of the virus, he revealed that he had to use an inhaler before competitions and suffered from fatigue and shortness of breath on the track.
Former Phoenix Suns player Cedric Ceballos spent weeks in intensive care after contracting Covid, and has since described the ordeal as “20 days on death row”.
Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has lost seven family members to the virus. Seven. Including his mother. Towns himself lost more than 20kg in his own battle with the infection.
“I know a lot of people who got sick and died. I have a daughter, I travel a lot, I can’t bring Covid back to her,” said Memphis star Ja Morant.
“I’m not mad at people who say, ‘I have to do my research,'” Damian Lillard said.
“They should take the steps that put them at ease. But I have a lot of people in my family that I’m close to and spend a lot of time around, and I’m just not going to put their health or their lives at risk because I want to do research.”
These are good teammates and good members of society, who want to protect others. It’s the players Ted Cruz should praise.
Then there are the staffers, without enough weight, money, or job security to make a public outcry about their fears. This week, a handful spoke to ESPN anonymously.
“For me it’s a problem because my parents are very sick and I’m in close contact with these guys. And I would hate to take this home and let my parents die from it,” said a strength and conditioning coach in the Western Conference.
“Suppose you have a small child with asthma and you do everything you can, but you bring something home to your family and children of a certain age who cannot yet be vaccinated,” said a lead athletic trainer.
Covid vaccination is mandatory for most NBA staff and referees, by the way, and they’ve followed the rules without throwing tantrums.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a knack for seeing things clearly. Which is a fancypants way of saying he’s good at breaking up the mess.
Speak with rolling stone recently, the league’s all-time leading scorer said stars who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid should be banned from playing.
You would find that attitude extreme. Listen to his logic.
“The NBA must insist that all players and staff be vaccinated or removed from the team,” Abdul-Jabbar argued.
“There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their team-mates, the staff and the fans simply because they cannot grasp the gravity of the situation or do the necessary research.
“They don’t meet the responsibilities that come with celebrities. Athletes are not required to be spokespersons for the government, but this is a public health issue.”
I would go a little further. In particular, we should forget the “celebrity” part.
Responsibilities don’t just come with fame, they are an inevitable part of life in any community. Our rights come with obligations to our fellow human beings. And right now, a sizable minority of people reject those commitments to embrace a distorted, misguided definition of freedom.
Of the quotes mentioned above, I was particularly struck by Isaac’s claim that unvaccinated players should be “free of the opinions of others”.
New. That’s not how it works.
Our personal freedoms give us the right to reject logic and refuse the vaccine, however misleading that may be. They do not give us the right to make that decision without any consequences. They do not protect us from criticism or contempt.
Here’s what Irving, Beal, Wiggins and other anti-vaxxers in the NBA tell their colleagues: We don’t give a shit if we infect you with this virus. We don’t care if you infect your loved ones. Our “freedom” is more important than that.
These guys have no problem trusting the expertise of medical professionals when being treated for broken limbs or torn ligaments. Suddenly, when we talk about the Covid vaccines, they don’t think the experts are worth listening to.
Never mind. Abdul Jabbar is right. Ban them.