"Contrarian without a cause" is the best description of Kyrie Irving I ever heard. It often seems like Kyrie desperately tries to be a revolutionary but has no revolution. Still, his instinct to fight authority and mistrust institutions seems to have a lot more connected to his personal basketball experience than we think.
Back in 2015, Irving was playing in his first playoffs. LeBron's return made the Cavs immediate favorites to win the East and appear in the Finals for the second time in franchise history. Kyrie started with a bang - he dropped 30 in his first playoff game. But fans were concerned when he missed two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hawks due to a knee injury. Irving appeared in Game 1 of the Finals against the Warriors, but the return didn't last long - Kyrie exited the game with an apparent knee injury. The diagnosis wasn't good; Irving suffered a fractured left kneecap that required surgery.
It was major surgery that sidelined Kyrie for a while - the injury happened on June 5th, and his first game back was on December 20th. While Kyrie presents his decision not to get vaccinated as a matter of principle concerning labor issues (and not being anti-vaccine), his personal experience can't be overlooked.
"He has been through a lot of injury stuff, including what he felt, and his family felt, was being put in danger not just by the Cavs medical staff trying to force him through the Playoffs in 2015, but [also] LeBron suggesting through his entourage that Kyrie should play through it."
Matt Sulivan, The Habershow
Irving apparently didn't want to play in that Game 1 but was getting a lot of pressure from the Cavs medical team and LeBron to tough it out. A broken kneecap later, you can see why Irving developed a mistrust for team doctors and leaders who only consider winning.
"When the Nets were recommending shoulder surgery in late 2019/2020, he ghosted on them completely because he didn't trust the Nets to give him the right advice. He was flying all around the place, getting 2nd, 3rd, 4th opinions; buying food from a Honduran herbalist online instead of listening to these elite doctors on the Nets medical staff."
Matt Sulivan, The Habershow
After his experience with the Cavs and LeBron in 2015, it makes sense that Kyrie would ask for "2nd, 3rd, 4th opinions" from doctors not paid by the team. I completely get that - if anyone suggested going under the knife, I wouldn't make such a decision lightly. And as someone who tries not to take drugs as much as possible, I can even get people trying to help their body's healing process through diet and healthy habits. Where Kyrie loses me is at "Honduran herbalist online."
What is apparent is that Irving's decision not to get vaccinated is probably a lot more about vaccine skepticism, not trusting doctors, and searching for alternative medicine than we are led to believe. For a basketball fan, this sheds light on why the "KD and Harden will get him to change his mind" strategy didn't work. LeBron was making suggestions that impacted Kyrie's health, and it didn't end well. So the probability that he would repeat the pattern with KD and Harden is obviously lower than we think. When you learn that he ghosted the Nets on his shoulder recovery, ghosted them again while taking some time off during last season, and now all that's going on around his vaccination status, the latest news out of Brooklyn makes sense.
"At the end of the day, (there’s) 16 million dollars in salary this upcoming year and 186 million dollars, as far as an extension, that he will not be offered now.”
Shams Charania, The Athletic
Kyrie has a $36,503,300 player option for '22/'23, so even without giving him an extension, the Nets are still looking at paying Irving max money next year. If they want to get him off the team, a trade seems to be their only option. But the question remains, who would be willing to take the risk and can offer anything the Nets would want. For now, the answer seems to be - no one.