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NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted vaccine mandate, says Kyrie Irving’s status is issue with New York City

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Monday 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 because of the 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,” he continued. “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, such as 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 that 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, he 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 — including 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,” he added. “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 has 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 become their rights, and he 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,” Silver continued. “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.”

• Silver said the NBA’s investigation into possible tampering by the Chicago Bulls in their sign-and-trade deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for Lonzo Ball and the Miami Heat in their sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors for Kyle Lowry was “ongoing.” He declined to give a timeline for when that investigation would be completed.

“From a league standpoint, we’re just trying to create a level playing field,” Silver said. “We tried to reset two years ago and make that absolutely clear to our teams, that going forward, to the extent we could, we would be strictly enforcing these rules, and that’s what we’re dealing with right now.”

• On the topic of expansion, Silver said he has yet to set foot in Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena, the renovated former Key Arena and the home of the NHL’s expansion team, the Seattle Kraken. He added that expansion isn’t something the league will pursue until it gets fully onto the other side of the pandemic.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that at some point we’ll take a very serious look at potential expansion,” Silver said, “and as I’ve said before, Seattle is one of those cities that we have our eye on. We had great success there in the past, and the fact now that they have a state-of-the-art arena back on line only increases their prospects. But it’s premature to get more specific than that.”

• Silver said it is “unclear” whether the NBA will return to state-run CCTV in China this season. The NBA has not had any games aired on it since Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of protesters in Hong Kong two years ago this month.

• Silver once again said that he is a proponent of adding a midseason tournament to the NBA schedule but that the most work will have to be done not just in creating the format but in persuading the players it is a worthwhile endeavor.

“But we have a fair amount of work still to do on it and a lot of convincing to do,” he said. “I know that for some of the players I’ve talked to directly, they have trouble, I think, envisioning the benefit of another form of competition when they’re so focused on the Larry O’Brien Trophy and don’t necessarily see us being able to create a new tradition.

“My response to that, especially having been with the league now for so long, is that these things take time. I think we’re in a position where we should be taking a long-term view looking at those changes in society around us and looking at — and it’s a responsibility of the league office to look out into the future on these things.”

• Silver said he is “optimistic” that the NBA All-Star Game slated for February in Cleveland will be able to be celebrated in something close to a normal fashion this season, as the league works to come out of the other side of the pandemic. The league is announcing its 75th anniversary team across both ESPN and TNT over the next few days, beginning Tuesday night on TNT.

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DeMar DeRozan, shorthanded Chicago Bulls hand Brooklyn Nets ‘bad, tough loss’

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NEW YORK — With DeMar DeRozan drawing James Harden and Kevin Durant with him on a drive into the paint, Lonzo Ball was all alone on the right wing as he launched a 3, crouched in anticipation and then turned toward courtside fans behind him after drilling a late dagger against the Brooklyn Nets.

Down four rotation players due to health and injuries, the Chicago Bulls continued their surprising start to the season by erasing an 11-point third-quarter deficit to give the Nets a stinging 111-107 loss at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

The Bulls (16-8) have won three straight games and leave New York having beaten the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and the Nets at Barclays Center on this road trip. This is also the second time this season that the Bulls outplayed the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference in the fourth quarter to hand the Nets a bitter loss, clinching the season series between the two teams.

“You want to be the best, you got to beat the best,” said DeRozan, who picked the Nets apart with 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. “Everybody talks about being best but you got to go out there. No matter if you are shorthanded, you want to be the best, you got to go out there and compete against the best.”

The Bulls entered the game shorthanded with Javonte Green and Coby White in health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. With Patrick Williams (left wrist) already out, the Bulls started Alex Caruso at power forward but he was later ruled out due to a hamstring injury that was bothering him entering the game. Bulls coach Billy Donovan said it was a medical decision to pull Caruso and that he did not know how long Caruso might be sidelined.

The Nets (16-7) looked at this game as a big test for them. They were shorthanded themselves with Joe Harris (ankle) and James Johnson (shoulder) out to go along with Kyrie Irving, who is not with the team. But they were looking to settle a score after losing, 118-95, in Chicago on Nov. 8 and get a quality win over one of the top teams in the conference.

Brooklyn led 71-60 with 6:34 left in the third and appeared to be in control. But that cushion was gone by the 9:28 mark in the fourth. Durant scored nine of his 28 points in the fourth quarter but Harden struggled with his shot, missing 5-of-6 shots in the fourth. The Nets defense allowed Chicago to shoot 52.2% in the fourth quarter. Chicago also enjoyed a 27-to-9 advantage in free-throw attempts for the game.

“We just gotta go out there and play with some force and confidence, like we want to win,” Durant said. “And understand it’s a long game, and just stick with the game plan. It’s a bad, it’s a tough loss. … We didn’t take advantage of being up nine-10 points. We just let them stay in the game and we were supposed to just bury them.”

Harden, who recently admitted he is having difficulty finding balance between being more of a playmaker versus when to be a scorer with Irving not playing, shot just 5-of-21 overall before finishing with 14 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.

“Blame this one on me,” said Harden. “I had a lot of opportunities at the rim that I didn’t convert that could have settled this game down.”

Durant said he should’ve helped Harden more by making more shots.

“That would’ve took pressure off of him,” Durant said.

At the end, the Nets watched another struggling shooter make the game’s biggest shot. After Durant cut the deficit to 107-105 with a 3-pointer, DeRozan drove and drew Harden and Durant with him in the paint. DeRozan found Ball alone on the right wing and the point guard delivered the dagger 3, just his second of the game. Ball finished 3-for-10 overall and just 2-for-7 from behind the arc.

Ball — who had eight points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three blocks against the Nets — also missed 8-of-10 3-point shots in Thursday’s win over the Knicks. But the Bulls continue to develop chemistry and trust in one another as they moved to within half a game of the Nets for the lead in the East.

“It says a lot about our team,” DeRozan said of the wins against the Knicks and Nets. “How resilient. How we approach challenges. We don’t shy away from them. We accept them.

“… It is difficult to win in this league, especially coming into two hostile environments on the road, playing against two teams and the best team in our conference, to withstand the blow that we took from them throughout the whole game, to buckle down in the fourth quarter and pull out a victory.”

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Chicago Bulls’ Javonte Green tests positive for COVID-19, joins Coby White in protocols

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The Chicago Bulls, who played the Hornets on Monday, saw Javonte Green test positive for COVID-19 on Friday, following Coby White earlier this week.

Charlotte had four players enter health and safety protocols on Saturday.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before his team faced the Nets in Brooklyn Saturday night that Green had driven back to Chicago on Friday, and was feeling all right. He added that Chicago expects to continue daily testing in the wake of multiple positive tests, and that he anticipates the league continuing to tighten its protocols as time goes by.

“I think that’s happening,” Donovan said of the protocols getting stricter. “I don’t think there’s any question that’s happening. I think there’s going to be, my guess would be, stricter policies than there have been this year. To your point, I think Thanksgiving and you’re dealing with Christmas and then New Year’s … people are going to be around family. I think that the way it’s moving right now is it’s getting a little more stricter.

“Certainly for us right now it’s a lot stricter because we’ve got two players who are positive.”

Donovan also praised his players for how they’ve handled the twists and turns of the situation over the past several days.

“Well, we’re not the only ones dealing with it,” Donovan said, “but the only guys I can respond to our our guys, and our guys have been class acts, totally professional. I think they’ve handled whatever has come their way. We’re not the only team that’s dealing with it, that’s had to deal with it.

“I think there was obviously some hope and some optimism we kind of passed this going into the season. That certainly hasn’t happened. But our guys have handled it, and the whole thing about you have to control what you can control. There’s a lot of inconveniences, things can get frustrating and annoying and you worry about are you infected or are you healthy, and you’ve got a couple teammates and guys on the team who have tested positive, so I’m sure some of that stuff goes through those guys’ minds.”

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to miss second game with calf soreness

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat with right calf soreness, coach Mike Budenholzer announced before the game.

It’s the second straight game Antetokounmpo has been sidelined because of the injury, which kept him out of the second half of a back-to-back on Thursday in Toronto. Budenholzer said then he was hopeful this would be just a short-term issue.

“We’ll just take it day by day,” Budenholzer said Saturday. “See how it goes”

The Bucks’ roster has been hampered by injuries and illnesses since the start of the season, but they had won eight of their past nine games entering Saturday to storm back into the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

In 21 games this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points and 11.8 rebounds while collecting a career-high 6.0 assists and 1.7 blocks.

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