So Kyrie Irving decided to play the long game in this surreal hand of poker with two New York City mayors, and it turns out he really did draw to the inside straight he’s been waiting on for five months. It turns out he can play basketball games for the Nets at Barclays Center, just in time for the playoffs.
It turns out the Yankees and Mets, who were informed last week that their eligibility to play in The Bronx and in Queens could be compromised if they remained unvaccinated will get a similar reprieve with plenty of time to spare before Opening Day. And if you are a stand-up comic or a guitar player or an actor, you can go back to work inside the city limits, too.
You can read and wonder about what that means to the cops, the firefighters and the other city workers who took similar stands these past few months, those who lost their jobs, those who now see multimillionaire entertainers and athletes spared a similar burden. The debate over their fates, and their futures, is just as important.
In truth, it’s more important.
Here, we have reserved judgment on both Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated as well as New York’s continuing refusal to grant him a waiver because, frankly, as long as it was law it was right to make even famous New Yorkers abide by it — even after it reached a proper expiration date, as it probably did a few months ago.
It will be on Mayor Eric Adams to properly explain the separate standards for celebrities and civilians, and it will be interesting to see how he handles that gauntlet.
As far as New York sports is concerned, however, as long as we keep the context strictly between the foul lines and the base lines, this will be a game-changer. The Nets may still be a piece or two shy of making a sustained championship run, but they also now know they will have two of the game’s 20 best players — Irving and Kevin Durant — on their side as they enter the postseason. And that’s an awfully good place to be.
The Yankees and the Mets? Well, we were always a little fuzzy about who really is vaccinated and who isn’t, and so it was hard to game out who would be affected until they collided with the vaccine mandate come April 7 (Opening Day at Yankee Stadium) and April 15 (the Mets’ home opener at Citi Field).
The Yankees will still likely have to face these questions when they make at least the first of their three trips to Toronto — where a vaccine mandate remains in place — which won’t happen until May 2. They’ll deal with that when they have to. They’ll field a full team — barring injury, of course — until then. (The Mets don’t play in Canada this year.)
That is all good news for New York’s sports fans, and better news for the athletes. It also likely proves that, for all the hits in the public forum that baseball has taken in recent weeks and months for being out of touch, for being too old and creaky, for being too slow, baseball still rules the roost, at least in New York City.
Make no mistake, no matter what Adams will say: without the looming specter of baseball season being profoundly affected, this doesn’t happen. Irving is the one who symbolized the dissent for the mandate rule, and getting him back full-time is the best news to hit the Nets all year. But baseball pushed the domino.
And so sports will look like sports around here, again, for real, for the first time since March 12, 2020. There are no restrictions on stadiums or arenas any more, almost no masks in those stands, and Kyrie Irving will be allowed to break ankles on a basketball floor while New York’s baseball players chase after the long summer. Nice narrative.
Though you may want to check in with those cops and firefighters and city workers before we declare it a happy ending.