The Brooklyn Nets were one of the NBA's most disappointing teams this past season and would pretty easily take the mantle of most disappointing if not for the existence of Russell Westbrook. They were widely considered to be title favorites heading into the year after barely losing to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks even without Kyrie Irving in last season's playoffs.
Then it all fell apart fairly quickly and the Nets petered out in the first round, getting swept by the Boston Celtics. There are numerous reasons why. Joe Harris was hurt all season. Kevin Durant missed time in the middle of the year with an MCL injury that forced him to play 40 minutes per game down the stretch to even squeak into the postseason. But the biggest problem with the Nets this year was Irving's refusal to take the COVID vaccine.
Regardless of how you feel about that decision, it's impossible to deny that it cost the Nets a shot at a championship. If he had played the whole year, Brooklyn almost certainly earns a higher seed and an easier draw in the first round. If he had played the whole year, continuity and chemistry wouldn't be an issue; Irving himself said the reason they couldn't hang with Boston was that his teammates haven't played all that much together and aren't entirely used to each other. If he had played the whole year, maybe Irving wouldn't have been gassed at the end of the series, which saw him post 46 points total in the final three games.
Predictably, Irving doesn't regret his decision and is, in fact, doubling down. Appearing on a podcast yesterday, Irving said he lived "the life of a martyr." Per the New York Post:
“I was not expecting a mandate to be brought down in a way where it wasn’t going to let me play at all,” Irving said on “The ETCs” podcast that published Wednesday.
“I had the opportunity to play away games still, but there was no plan in place, there was no vision of how it was going to work for our team. And I think that really impacted not just me, but a lot of people. Just had to sit in that hot seat for a little bit and deal with it. The life of a martyr, bro.”
All famous martyrs had a cause. So what was Irving's cause? He said at the time that he wanted to be the voice of the voiceless, a champion for those who refused to be coerced into receiving a vaccine by those in power. He clearly believed he was making a statement that requiring the vaccine to work is wrong.
The problem is that his cause ended up completely without merit. Irving did not change the New York City vaccinate mandate very much at all, and certainly not for the voiceless. He was allowed to take the court in Brooklyn after the mayor altered the mandate so that performers and athletes were exempt. All the Average Joes who got fired because they wouldn't get the vaccine... still got fired. The mandate remains in place even today.
If Irving is a martyr, he is a martyr without a cause. Which I guess is still technically martyrdom but feels a little insulting to the actual martyrs who changed history over the centuries. Regardless, the Nets probably would've preferred he walked a different path.