MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kyrie Irving’s season-long banishment from Brooklyn is finally over.
Mayor Eric Adams is poised to announce Thursday that Irving and other unvaccinated athletes will now be allowed to play professional sports in the city under a major policy change. Politico was the first to report the news that has since been confirmed by The Post, and will come as the best possible birthday present for Irving.
And the biggest boost the Nets could’ve hoped for in their chase for a first-ever NBA title, moving from contender to favorite.
“I would welcome that,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash deadpanned before Wednesday’s game at the Memphis Grizzles.
Despite the delivery, Nash’s Cheshire Cat grin told the story of how huge this would be for Brooklyn.
Irving — who turned 30 Wednesday — has played just 20 games all season, barred from playing in New York because of his refusal to adhere to the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He didn’t make his season debut until Jan. 5, the situation hamstringing the entire season.
But this policy shift will not only impact the Nets, but could be seismic in determining the NBA Finals.
“Good,” said Nash. “I don’t want to say anything else about that.”
The alteration of the private-sector vaccine mandate would allow an exemption for athletes and entertainers in the workplace, making Irving (as well as unvaccinated Yankees and Mets) suddenly eligible for home games. It could be announced Thursday at Citi Field.
But after Kevin Durant had angered the mayor’s office by calling out Adams, Nash wouldn’t be drawn in on a question about the drawing power and lobby of the looming baseball season helping move the needle.
“Umm, I don’t know that I should say anything about it right now,” Nash said. “Let’s just wait and see where the chips fall.”
Since taking office on New Year’s Day, Adams has been progressively and systematically easing the COVID policies instituted by his predecessor Bill de Blasio.
Without the change, Irving would only have been eligible for two of the Nets’ remaining nine regular-season games: Saturday at Miami and the following weekend at Atlanta. That’s on the brink of changing, and it could play a role in the Eastern Conference race.
“I’m not into politics, man. I play basketball. I take care of my kids,” center Andre Drummond had said Wednesday morning of Irving’s situation. “Whatever the mayor decides to do is what he does.
“Hopefully he makes a decision to do something to help [Irving] out some way, somehow, if he has to test before games or whatever it may be. But at the end of the day, I don’t control that. I can only control what goes on on the court, and hopefully the best happens.”
The best-case scenario seems to be on the verge of happening.
Irving came into Wednesday averaging 27.7 points, and on the brink of a repeat of last season’s 50/40/90 shooting splits.
Brooklyn has an Offensive Rating of 119.3 with Irving on the floor, the highest for any players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes and played at least 10 games. And their 126.3 with Irving and Durant on the court together is top 5 in the entire league championship-level.
“He’s a professional,” Drummond said. “He took a stand on what he believes in, but he’s still a professional. When he comes back, he doesn’t miss a beat. He does the necessary work to make sure he doesn’t miss anything when he comes back. We’re all happy when he comes back and we try to hold it down while he’s gone.”
But now it appears Irving won’t be gone for every home game anymore.
“[Wednesday is his] birthday, so God knows what’s gonna happen,” said Drummond. “I just think on a serious note, like I said before, with Kyrie, he’s a true professional. When he steps on the floor, he hangs his hat and he does everything he’s supposed to do, so whether it’s 50 points or six points, he makes an impact regardless.”