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After NBA player denied religious exemption to COVID vaccination, other players reportedly considering skipping games over 'oppressing' vaccine mandate

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images (left), Jim McIsaac/Getty Images (right)

The NBA denied a request for a COVID-19 vaccination exemption based on religious reasons for Golden State Warriors player Andrew Wiggins on Friday. The Warriors — who play their home games at the Chase Center in San Francisco — are subjected to stricter COVID-19 vaccination requirements based on the city's public health order.

"The NBA has reviewed and denied Andrew Wiggins' request for religious exemption from the San Francisco Department of Public Health's order requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all participants age 12 and older at large indoor events," the professional basketball league said in a statement. "Wiggins will not be able to play in Warriors home games until he fulfills the city's vaccination requirements."

Wiggins is set to make more than $31 million this season, but he could lose half his salary if he misses all of the Warriors' home games.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health released a statement on Friday:

At large and mega indoor events, all patrons 12 and older must be vaccinated at this time. Under the current order, if unvaccinated, they cannot enter indoor areas regardless of the reason they are unvaccinated and cannot test out of this requirement even if they have a medical or religious exemption. This same rule applies to performers and players employed by the host at large and mega indoor events who are covered by the vaccination requirements of the Health Order.

Players from two other NBA franchises also face "get the vaccine or get benched" propositions: the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. New York City has a rigid coronavirus vaccination mandate that requires vaccinations for everyone entering indoor public spaces, including NBA players and coaches.

The NBA told teams that visiting clubs are exempt from the New York and San Francisco vaccine requirements.

The New York Knicks said their entire roster is vaccinated.

Nets general manager Sean Marks said last week that a couple of players have yet to be vaccinated, and would not be eligible to play when the regular season begins on Oct. 19.

A report on vaccine-hesitant NBA players from Rolling Stone suggested that superstar Kyrie Irving is one of the Brooklyn Nets players who have yet to be vaccinated. The outlet acknowledged that Irving's rep and "multiple people familiar with his thinking" declined to reveal Irving's vaccination status.

Tyki Irving — Kyrie's aunt who runs the All-Star playmaker's KAI Family Foundation — suggested that Irving and other players against vaccine mandates could sit out home games to avoid the public health orders in New York City and San Francisco.

"There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way," Tyki Irving told Rolling Stone. "It could be like every third game. So it still gives you a full season of being interactive and being on the court, but with the limitations that they're, of course, oppressing upon you. There can be some sort of formula where the NBA and the players can come to some sort of agreement."

Orlando Magic player Jonathan Isaac — who made national headlines in 2020 for being the first NBA player to stand for the national anthem — is another vaccine-hesitant player, according to the report.

The 23-year-old Isaac — who is a devout Christian and ordained minister — has questioned the seemingly inconsistent NBA COVID protocols.

"You can play on the same court. We can touch the same ball. We can bump chests. We can do all those things on the court," he said. "And then when it comes to being on the bus, we have to be in different parts of the bus? To me, it doesn't seem logically consistent."

Isaac asked, "If you are vaccinated, in other places you still have to wear the mask regardless. It's like, 'OK, then what is the mask necessarily for?'" And if Kyrie says that from his position of his executive power in the NBPA, then kudos to him."

On Sunday, Isaac appeared to slam the Rolling Stone report in a tweet, which indicated he is against vaccine mandates but not an anti-vaxxer.

"Misrepresentation only allows for others to attack straw men, and not reason with the true ideas and heart of their fellow man," Isaac wrote on Twitter. "It helps no one! True journalism is dying! I believe it is your God given right to decide if taking the vaccine is right for you! Period! More to follow."

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar believes the NBA should require all players and staff to be vaccinated.

"The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team," Abdul-Jabbar said. "There is no room for players who are willing to risk the health and lives of their teammates, the staff and the fans simply because they are unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation or do the necessary research. What I find especially disingenuous about the vaccine deniers is their arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts. Yet, if their child was sick or they themselves needed emergency medical treatment, how quickly would they do exactly what those same experts told them to do?"

With NBA training camps starting later this week, there is a report that 90% of NBA players are vaccinated against COVID-19.

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