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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says NBA players who refuse the COVID vaccine should be "disciplined"

Basketball legend and longtime activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says NBA players who have refused to get vaccinated for COVID should be "disciplined." The NBA said the league can't mandate players to get vaccinated unless the players' union approves it.

About 90% of NBA players have been vaccinated against COVID-19. In an interview on CNN, Abdul-Jabbar, who has been advocating for others to get the COVID vaccine, said the league should step in. "I think they should be disciplined," he said Monday. "I don't think they are behaving like good teammates or good citizens." 

Earlier Monday, Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving said he wanted to keep his vaccination status "private" after Rolling Stone reported on his social media activity, where he was engaging with anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories. He couldn't attend the session in person because New York City requires anyone over the age of 12 to show COVID-19 vaccination proof to enter indoor venues, such as gyms or arenas. Abdul-Jabbar said he "can't accept" Irving's stance on the issue.

"He's hiding behind procedure here," he said. "Either you understand what's going on and you're going to do the right thing or you don't understand what's going on and you're going to continue to create all this confusion with your stance."

The NBA players' union, where Irving serves as vice president, has not agreed to any requirement involving COVID-19 vaccines, despite the National Basketball Referees Association reaching an agreement with the NBA to have all its referees vaccinated. The NBA's reported 90% vaccination rate also trails behind the WNBA, which said nearly all of its players have been vaccinated. 

"A vaccine mandate for NBA players would need an agreement with the Players Association. The NBA has made these proposals but the players' union has rejected any vaccination requirement," NBA spokesperson Mike Bass told CBS News on Tuesday. 

San Francisco is also requiring proof of vaccination like New York. Golden State Warriors player Andrew Wiggins sought a religious exception from COVID-19, but he was rejected by the league

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles on February 21, 2020. Kevork S. Djansezian / Getty

Abdul-Jabbar told CNN vaccines and masks are "weapons to fight in this war" against the pandemic. "When you're not gonna be cooperative with that, you're working against the effort to make everybody safe," he said. "We can't have that. That doesn't work for everybody." 

Abdul-Jabbar's comments on CNN come days after he condemned unvaccinated players in an interview with Rolling Stone. 

"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," Abdul-Jabbar told the magazine. 

Instead, the Los Angeles Lakers icon believes athletes should use their platform to lead the drive for more vaccinations, saying they have "blood on their hands" if they continue to "promote hesitancy" and claim to need "more research." 

"If individual athletes can't muster the courage to do the right thing, then the NBA and every other league governing body must step in and mandate vaccinations for players, coaches, and staff in order to protect the team, the fans, and the community," he wrote in Substack. "Players are free to choose not to get vaccinated, but they should have the courage of their moral convictions to sit out the season, sustained in the righteousness of their choice."  

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