6:22 PM ET
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Monday that he would have "preferred" that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association come to an agreement on a vaccine mandate, in part to avoid it becoming an "adversarial" issue for the league's players, as it has for Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving.
"I won't try to speak for [the NBPA], other than the view that some players had, I think -- including maybe some players who are vaccinated -- that it should be an individual choice among the players," Silver said during his annual preseason news conference, which was conducted virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"I would have preferred that ultimately that the Players Association agreed to mandatory vaccinations. The officials union agreed to mandatory vaccinations, despite opposition from some of their members. But ultimately I think we could have avoided a lot of the adversarial nature of these issues for our players. It's not so much with the league. I think that gets confused in some cases.
"This is between Irving and New York City right now. This is not a league issue ... but I think it would have been best for everyone if every player were vaccinated."
Irving is the lone NBA player who, as of Monday, is unable to play this season because of a vaccine mandate. New York City enacted a mandate last month that requires anyone going to a public gym, like Brooklyn's Barclays Center and Manhattan's Madison Square Garden, to get at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. San Francisco passed a similar law that went into effect last week, but which required individuals to be fully vaccinated.
While Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins eventually got vaccinated, clearing him to play, and the New York Knicks are fully vaccinated, Irving is the lone Nets player who has decided not to get the vaccine, and therefore is ineligible to play games at either Barclays Center or Madison Square Garden. It's a decision that, if he sticks with it for the entire season, could cost him close to $20 million.
Visiting players, however, are exempt from the law, meaning that Irving is the only one who is unable to play as a result. Silver said he has heard nothing about the possibility of the vaccine mandate in New York being eased at any point this season.
When asked if it is "fair" that Irving is unable to play while other unvaccinated players -- like Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal -- are able to play without issue, Silver said that the framing of the question was off.
"I'm not sure if fair is the right way to approach it because there's nothing fair about this virus," Silver said. "It's indiscriminate in terms of who it impacts, and I think it's perfectly appropriate that New York and other cities have passed laws that require people who both work and visit arenas to be vaccinated. That seems to be a responsible public health decision made by those locales, and those are the circumstances in which the Nets find themselves operating.
"I accept that. I think that we understand as a league we have to play the cards that are dealt, just in the same way there are variations from market to market. I know there are players in some markets who would prefer that their local governments pass ordinances requiring that all the fans be vaccinated who are in the buildings with them.
"We'll see how it plays out. I mean, frankly I hope that Kyrie sort of -- despite how strongly he feels about the vaccination -- ultimately decides to get vaccinated because I'd love to see him play basketball this season, and I'd love to see the Brooklyn Nets have their full complement of players on the floor."
Irving's decision not to get vaccinated, in addition to comments made by Beal and others about the vaccine, have caused plenty of commentary on social media and elsewhere, which prompted Silver to be asked if that was something he was concerned about.
Silver said he was and that he's always encouraged players to speak their minds on issues they believe in. But, he said, he doesn't believe that someone's personal opinions automatically becomes their right, and pointed to Irving's situation as an example.
"... I think that gets lost sometimes, that having an opinion about whether to get vaccinated is different than your right to play NBA basketball," Silver said. "We're seeing that, for example, in the New York market right now, when there's a conflict with a player's point of view and the local law, and the local law is going to trump that player's point of view.
"I've always tried to ensure that players feel comfortable using this platform that the league affords them. I don't mean literally the league. Just by being a famous NBA player, that they use it responsibly, that they educate themselves on points of view, but they also are respected in return.
"I hope that to the extent that players continue to express points of view on a variety of topics that those points of view are respected. Again, that doesn't mean that either the league will necessarily agree with them or fans will, but that fans will respect them for doing that, as long as it doesn't cross certain lines of vulgarity or hate speech ... there's obviously some other categories where people shouldn't go as representatives of this league."