Kyrie Irving returned Saturday afternoon.
It wasn’t for a game or even a true practice, but it was a minor step forward.
The Nets mercurial superstar guard, who had been separated from the team since its return from the West Coast on Monday, took part in a light public workout at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Irving, the only player to wear a face mask on Saturday, missed a full week of practice and Friday’s preseason game against the Bucks due to his refusal to comply with local vaccine mandates. But after New York City determined on Friday that the Nets’ practice facility is a private office building, he can now return to practice in Brooklyn starting on Sunday.
He received a loud ovation from the crowd upon his introduction and immersed himself in the community event. Irving shot around with his teammates and took part in a team-wide game of knockout. He threw miniature basketballs and T-shirts into the crowd, and signed some autographs.
“I think we’re taking it one step at a time, so to have everyone here outside at this [event] is pretty special,” reserve guard Patty Mills said during the event.
Mills, the only member of the Nets made available to reporters, said Irving had yet to address the team about his current plans, but expected those talks to happen at some point.
“We haven’t had a chance to catch up yet, but I’m sure those conversations will come,” he said.
While Irving can now practice with his teammates in Brooklyn, he still stands to miss 43 regular season games — 41 home games at Barclays Center and two at the Garden against the Knicks — until he gets vaccinated.
Irving hasn’t spoken to reporters since his Zoom interview on media day nearly two weeks ago, and it is uncertain what he and the Nets plan to do regarding his status. Are the Nets OK with the seven-time All-Star being a part-time player, since he can at least practice full-time? Is Irving softening in his anti-vaccination stance?
Before Saturday’s event, Irving posted a tweet that didn’t seem to indicate he was ready to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I am protected by God and so are my people. We stand together,” he wrote.
Fellow stars Kevin Durant and James Harden have declined to publicly push Irving to get vaccinated, although both have said they want him on the team on a full-time basis. Harden admitted Irving’s absence for any period of time would hurt the Nets on the floor.
“Hopefully, we figure this thing out,” Durant said on Friday.
It is also unclear if Irving will get in a game before the start of the regular season, which begins a week from Tuesday at defending champion Milwaukee. He was held out of the Nets’ preseason opener against the Lakers last Sunday, although he was eligible to participate since it was played in Los Angeles. Irving could play in Monday’s contest at Philadelphia, but head coach Steve Nash said on Friday that, since Irving has missed so much practice time, he was unsure if he would play in that game.
At least on Saturday he was back with the team, and Sunday he may take part in his first practice in more than a week. The issue is clearly not resolved, but it is better than Irving continuing to be separated from his teammates.
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