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NYC mayor allows unvaccinated athletes to play home games, paving way for Nets star Kyrie Irving

New York City performers and athletes no longer have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to perform or play in local venues, Mayor Eric Adams announced Thursday. The exemption paves the way for Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving to begin playing home games again following a period of playing on the road only due to his unvaccinated status, CBS New York reports

"Currently, only non-resident are exempt under this executive order. We are expanding it to residents of New York City," Adams said at a press conference Thursday at Citi Field.

"We were treating our performers different because they live and play for home teams. It's not acceptable. This exemption has been putting our sports teams at a self-imposed disadvantage, but this new order would help boost our economy," Adams said.

Last year, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a COVID vaccine mandate for private sector employers, which covered athletes and performers. Under city rules, all residents were required to have at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in order to enter indoor establishments like gyms, restaurants and theaters.

Adams said Thursday that he looked at changing the rule from the start of his term in January. The new order takes effect immediately, he said. 

Because of the prior requirement, Irving had not been allowed to play or practice with his teammates at the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. He said by not getting vaccinated he was doing "what's best for me." In December 2021, the Nets announced Irving would "rejoin the team for games and practices in which he is eligible to participate." Since January, the point guard had played in away games. 

Ahead of his first eligible home game against the Miami Heat on Saturday, Irving said he is "looking forward to playing back in Brooklyn."

"Please take my comment seriously when I say I've been pinching myself since Wednesday and Thursday because there was a time where I got my hopes really, really high and all the air just got let out," he said in a video published by ESPN. "I didn't want to get too excited. Still tonight, I'm trying to stay focused on this game."

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association commended the latest exemption, adding that 97% of the league is already vaccinated. 

"With today's announcement, we support the Mayor's determination that the old rules treating hometown and visiting players differently no longer made sense, particularly because NBA players will continue to test daily," the NBA and NPA said in a joint statement Thursday. "We applaud the mayor for listening to the concerns of our New York teams, players, fans and communities and for leveling the playing field for home teams and their opponents."

The decision came just in time for the start of baseball season, and the leaders of the New York Mets and Yankees praised it in a statement released by the mayor's office. 

"Mets owners Steve and Alex Cohen and all of us at the Mets are proud to partner with the mayor and his team as part of New York City's continued reopening and economic recovery," said Mets president Sandy Alderson. "We look forward to welcoming fans back to Citi Field, and for Mets players to have the opportunity — for the first time in three years — to play a full season before the greatest fans in the world."

"We appreciate the way the mayor approached this decision with deliberation, understanding, and reliance on the science," said Yankees president Randy Levine. "He was open to the needs of New York businesses and is today delivering for millions of New Yorkers. We thank him for his decision."

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