Irving has said this is not about being for or against vaccines, but "about being true to what feels good" for him.
Rally organizers said they were taking a stance against New York City's vaccine mandate.
Just before Sunday's 4 p.m. tip-off, barricades at Barclays Center entrance were removed. A man dressed in red is seen on video summoning people to come in, and protesters using all their might try to break through a group of security guards who eventually got a hold of them and close all the doors for a short time.
Ticketed guests already inside watched it all unfold.
"All this for Kyrie because he didn't get vaccinated? Because he could play if he get vaccinated," one fan said.
The rally started hours before the game at a park about a mile away from Barclays Center. It was organized by several groups, including Teachers for Choice, Rev. Kevin McCall and Black Lives Matter activist Hank Newsome, who marched to Barclays with signs.
Upon arriving, McCall and Newsome got upset when they were told the DJ outside Barclays could not turn down the music for a few minutes, and then dozens swarmed the plaza.
"Let Kyrie play!" some chanted.
The Nets have said Irving is not allowed to play under the city's vaccine mandate, which requires at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot to enter indoor venues.
Irving, a Montclair, New Jersey native, said recently, "I am staying grounded in what I believe in. It is not about being anti-vax or about being on one side or the other. It is just really about being true to what feels good for me." He also said, "This has everything to do with what is going on in our world, and I am being grouped into something that is bigger than just the game of basketball."
"This is against the mandate. They're trying to take away our freedom," McCall said.
Fans had mixed reactions.
When asked if the incident killed the vibe for him, Erick Trejo, who was visiting from St. Louis, said, "Oh, it sure did because that was the only person I came to see."
"It's a shame that someone who is that good is not playing," added Gabriel Munk of the Long Island village of Cedarhurst.
"He's doing what he needs to do for himself and his family, so I'm with him 100%," added Curtis Hll, who was visiting from Buffalo.
"I trust science. I believe in science. I feel like he should do it, but, hey, you know, I'm not even going to say to each his own. I feel like he should do it," said Nicholas Bailey of Chicago.
"I mean, he definitely should be vaccinated because, I mean, if you're a star figure, it's probably a good idea to set a good example, but you know," city resident Stefanie Rippenbaum said.
Without Irving, the Nets lost to the Charlotte Hornets, 111-95.
As for the protests, no arrests were made.
Editor's note: This story first appeared on October 24, 2021.
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