How Will Bettors and Oddsmakers Handicap the NBA’s Unvaccinated?
The Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving is currently only eligible to play in 38 of 82 games because the former flat-Earther refuses to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Brooklyn Nets played golf at Torrey Pines after their first practice of the season Tuesday. And they are likely to be spending some time with billionaire owner Joe Tsai, who lives in La Jolla, California, near their training camp site at the University of San Diego.
Strange place for a team from Brooklyn to be assembling for training camp. But what’s not strange about life in 2021?
The pandemic continues to play a major role in all of our lives, and how people react to it continues to impact the way we live and the way we survive. We all have to make accommodations for those who refuse to be vaccinated.
Even in the NBA, we are looking at a situation in which Kyrie Irving—a heck of a basketball player and philanthropist but also a scientific doubter—could be limited to just 38 games, the ones the Brooklyn Nets play in cities other than New York and San Francisco.
Irving has refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine. But a new municipal ordinance in New York will prohibit him from even setting foot inside the Barclays Center or the Nets’ practice facility until he gets his first shot. He also will not be allowed to play road games against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, or the Nets’ road game against the Golden State Warriors at the Chase Center in San Francisco, where a similar ordinance threatens to prevent Andrew Wiggins from playing in home games.
This will be Pandemic Season III for the NBA as life refuses to get easier or less complicated. The league met with the players’ union over the summer and requested that vaccines become mandatory for all players, just as they are for team staff and referees and most other league employees. But Irving, who is on the union’s executive committee, was one of the voices saying that was a non-starter.
About 40 NBA players are refusing to be vaccinated, and who they are and how their stances will impact their teams’ daily and championship odds remains a mystery.
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Irving may eventually be convinced by his teammates, including close friends Kevin Durant and James Harden, to go ahead and get vaccinated, which would allow him to be eligible for all 82 games. Nets general manager Sean Marks said two weeks ago that there was a “plan” for making this happen, but it would appear that he was using the word “plan” rather loosely.
Here are some things to remember about Irving, who is as stubborn as he is talented. He alternates from being a private person and being a very public person, he is extraordinarily popular among young NBA fans, and he unwittingly leads by example—bad news for those of us who want our normal lives back.
And while Irving has every right under U.S. law to refuse a vaccine, he also is setting a bad example for all of the doubters out there who are being led astray and making mask culture prevalent again, especially in New York City, which used to be a lively place but now resembles a surgical ward in a zombie apocalypse. Take it from a New Yorker.
Irving is not making it any better, and the mystery surrounding the question of whether he will relent is going to cause a major disruption in the U.S. sports gambling world.
Right now at MaximBet, the Brooklyn Nets are prohibitive favorites to not only win the Eastern Conference, but also the NBA championship. But if this guy, who once actually proclaimed the Earth is flat, is unable to play in home games during the regular season and the playoffs … well, let’s just say that all bets are off.
Lenny Estrin, head of props trading at MaximBet, indicated his team would not be setting an over/under on how many games Irving will play for the Nets.
“Those options would be quite difficult to set odds for,” Estrin said. “We could consider removing the home games in the total, but it would be difficult to account for injuries, trades, or change of vaccination status. So, no, it is not something we’ll be offering odds for.”
Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic is another player who has been outspoken about not getting vaccinated, and the identities of other holdouts will become apparent as time proceeds forward. This week, we learned that Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns is actually suffering from COVID-19 and has lost his senses of taste and smell. One of last year’s NBA finalists is not available for the start of training camp.
With a few dozen others like him around the league, who exactly is available for certain teams on a nightly basis will be somewhat of a mystery. This is going to have a major impact in the sports gambling market, where wagering is now legal in roughly half of the United States.
Will the vaccination status of these players and others impact the timing of odds released for given games? Or will the sportsbooks view it as they would a player questionable due to injury?
“The first couple of weeks we’ll certainly monitor the situations closely, but if their absences are prolonged then we’ll settle into a normal post time groove,” Estrin said. “For the Warriors, Wiggins isn’t going to impact the game line too greatly, if at all. Kyrie is worth more to a line than Wiggins, but with the talent and depth on that Nets team even his value isn’t as high as it would be if he were on a team like the Pistons.”
Irving can make this all go away by going ahead and getting vaccinated, but nothing is uncomplicated when it comes to this guy. Just ask LeBron James, who won a championship with Kyrie but could not co-exist peacefully with him in Cleveland. Or ask the fans in Boston, who loved Irving like a native son until he suddenly wanted out and bolted Beantown as a free agent.
Last week, while players were still enjoying their late summer vacations, Irving was on an Indian reservation in South Dakota (he has Native American blood) and was the only person not wearing a mask.
He is anti-mask just as much as he is anti-vax, and he has a right to be both of those things because he is an American. But at the same time, all Americans are sick and tired of being locked inside their homes too much, of having the rules change on almost a daily basis, of political polarization, and of having the “new normal” being completely abnormal.
Well, if Kyrie goes out and gets a jab, it would send a strong signal to both the NBA community at large and and minority communities, where anti-vax sentiments are strongest, that a vaccination shot is not the worst thing in the world.
Harden and Durant were holdouts for a long time too, and both of them eventually got vaccinated. Here’s hoping that they get into Irving’s head, perhaps on an overnight excursion to Tijuana after one of their practices this week.
Kyrie is not a bad guy. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Native American tribes, impoverished communities and student scholarships. Among teenage girls, there may not be a more popular player. But among hardheads, there may be nobody captaining the team quite so capably.
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