Kyrie Irving’s return to the court — unvaccinated and part-time — is as seismic as it is controversial. The Nets aren’t naïve to that.
But Nets owner Joe Tsai told The Post they’re not trying to champion a cause. They’re trying to be champions. And letting Irving play — even if it’s just on the road — gets them closer.
“We’re trying to be practical. And I’ve always said I don’t want to make this a political issue,” Tsai told The Post by phone Friday night. “My only religion is to win games and win the championship. That’s where we are.”
Where the Nets are is sitting atop the Eastern Conference with Irving not having played a second all season, but also running Kevin Durant and James Harden into the ground. They’re winners of four straight, but down to just nine healthy bodies with nine out — seven in health and safety protocols due to COVID-19.
Irving’s refusal to adhere to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate barred him from playing at Barclays Center (or the Garden), and saw Brooklyn shelve him altogether. Both Tsai and general manager Sean Marks had said they had no intention of letting Irving be a part-time player.
But now after seeing the roster decimated and Irving expressing a desire to return, Tsai and Marks brought him back — with Durant and Harden on board.
“So I think a lot of people that are either pro-vax or anti-vax people are mad at me for taking one stance or the other. But I have said from the very beginning I’m not taking this as a political thing,” Tsai told The Post. “I’m doing this to help the Brooklyn Nets win a championship. That’s the thinking.”
Irving has become a lightning road while sidelined, the unwitting face of the anti-vaxxer movement and darling of the right, backed by the likes of politicians Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. Now some will point to the Nets appearing to cave to their unvaccinated superstar.
There’s no argument the Nets can make to that, other than the oldest one in sports: Winning. In this equation, victory > vaccine.
Now Irving is on the clock to deliver it.