Irving had not been vaccinated against Covid-19 and was away from the team after Nets General Manager Sean Marks announced in October that he would not be allowed to play or practice “until he is eligible to be a full participant”.
However, the seven-time All-Star guard is only eligible to play in road races due to New York City’s vaccine mandate banning him from playing at Barclays Center.
“I’m not going to lie, it was relatively difficult to watch from the sidelines everything that is happening in the world,” Irving told reporters on Wednesday. “I know everyone feels it [Covid-19].
“I just pray that everyone is healthy during these times. If I get the chance to get out on the field and play with my teammates, even if it’s only on the road for away games, I’m grateful for the opportunity,” added Irving to. , who said he was received with “open arms” by his teammates and “the entire organization”.
On Tuesday, the US hit a record seven-day average for new Covid-19 cases and it is still rising.
Tuesday’s number beat the previous record of 251,989 new cases, set on January 11, 2021. The seven-day average for new cases now stands at 265,427.
Hospital admissions and deaths have not seen a comparable increase in the rate, but these are lagging indicators that could drag on for weeks behind the increase in the number of cases. The seven-day average of new deaths is currently 1,453 and 76,779 people have been hospitalized in the US with Covid-19.
“I wouldn’t really call it a change of heart”
During Wednesday’s media conference, Irving was asked what had changed from the October decision to the current reconsideration.
“I understood and respected their decision,” Irving said. “I really had to sit back and try not to get too emotionally attached to what they decided to do.
“I had to sit down and really evaluate things and see it from their perspective. I really empathized and understood their choice to say that if you don’t get fully vaccinated, you can’t be a full participant.
“I wouldn’t really call it a change of heart… either you’re all in or you’re going to have to wait on the sidelines for things to either calm down with the mandate, with some of these cases.
“We just want everyone to stay safe and healthy and that was the reasoning behind it and I understood that.”
When asked if he knew the consequences of not getting vaccinated, Irving said he had, but he wasn’t “prepared for it, without some imagination.”
“When the season started, my idea was to be a full-time teammate and just go out and have fun and provide a great brand of basketball,” added Irving.
“But unfortunately it didn’t work out like that. Things happen for a reason, and now we’re here and I’m just thankful for this.”
‘I pray it works’
In addition to competing at New York’s Barclays Center, Irving is also ineligible for road races in Toronto and San Francisco due to those cities’ local policies.
“If you put in a state mandate that everyone has to follow, it’s not up to them, it’s not up to the team, it’s really a state mandate,” Irving said of the juggling act he and the Nets are now facing.
“I didn’t put too much pressure on them, they didn’t put too much pressure on me and we respected each other’s boundaries along with everyone else on the team and now we’re here and they could just be supportive to just make me available for the road races.
“That was the goal once the state mandate came in. It didn’t work in October, but now that we’re here, I pray it works.”
Irving previously defended his decision not to get vaccinated in October by saying in an Instagram Live video that “no one should be forced to do anything with their bodies,” adding that his decision was not politically motivated.
However, Irving may have to wait a while before making his first appearance of the season.
The Nets have three consecutive home games ahead of them, starting on Thursday against Philadelphia. Irving’s first appearance could come on January 5, when the Nets travel to Indiana to defeat the Pacers.