ESPN host Stephen A. Smith tore into Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving on Tuesday night, telling the All-Star guard “to hell with you” for his continued refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
With 96 percent of NBA athletes now vaccinated, Irving remains the league’s highest-profile player to decline the shot. Since New York City—where the Nets play their home games—requires individuals to have had at least one COVID-19 jab to enter indoor arenas, the team has benched Irving until he can become a “full participant” under the city’s COVID-19 rules.
“Kyrie has made a personal choice, and we respect his individual right to choose,” the Nets said in a statement. “Currently the choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team, and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.”
Asked about Irving’s anti-vax stance and the team’s decision to bar him from team activities during an appearance on CNN’s Don Lemon Tonight, Smith said the punishment against the star was “well deserved.”
“The mandate is in New York. It’s in L.A. now. It’s in San Francisco,” Smith declared. “If this man does not get vaccinated, he would be violating the mandate and as a result, he would miss 41 home games for the Brooklyn Nets, plus a couple of games at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. Plus a game in L.A. Plus a game in San Francisco.”
Smith, who has been highly critical of other vaccine-hesitant professional athletes, then laid into the one-time NBA champ for breathing life into vaccine conspiracies.
“Sorry, if you can’t take a vaccine that 6.2 billion people in the world have already taken,” the ESPN pundit exclaimed. “Trying to claim that you think there is some kind of a conspiracy going on and you want to be that defiant and leave the rest of your team hanging—the Kevin Durants, the James Hardens of the world. As far as I’m concerned, the hell with you!”
Saying the team shouldn’t “pay him a dime and let him live his life,” Smith noted that while Irving has “the freedom and right to do what he wants to do,” the Nets “also have the right to say, ‘See ya, nice knowing you!’”
He concluded: “I don’t have a problem with that position.”
Following the Nets’ benching of Irving, The Athletic reported on Tuesday night that “multiple sources with direct knowledge of Irving’s decision” claim he is “not anti-vaccine” but that he is “upset that people are losing their jobs due to vaccine mandates.” These sources also told The Athletic that Irving’s refusal “is about a grander fight” and—this is a real quote—that “Kyrie wants to be a voice for the voiceless.”