At the moment, the NBA isn't requiring that its players get vaccinated against COVID. But one big name in basketball thinks the league should, and he's lobbying for strong repercussions for those who don't. "The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells 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."
The issue has come to a head for certain teams after two cities, New York and San Francisco, mandated in August that players on home teams be vaccinated. Although the league says that 90% of its 450-plus players have received at least one shot, Rolling Stone delves into the pushback from anti-vaxxers in the league, spurred by conspiracy theories that proliferate in the locker room. Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is one player who won't say whether he's vaxxed and who the magazine notes is "known for being receptive to conspiratorial beliefs." Irving has already missed the Nets' media day activities due to the NYC mandate.
Abdul-Jabbar, 74, who's been a staunch public advocate for getting vaccinated, including doing a PSA in which he got the vaccine, is especially concerned for minorities, and acknowledges vaccine hesitation due to past unethical incidents such as the Tuskegee experiment. In August, the CDC estimated that only 25% of the Black population in the US was fully vaccinated. "We have to gain the trust of minority communities by showing them that the vaccine is effective and that it's in their best interest to take [it]," the Hall of Famer said earlier this year, per CNN.
Abdul-Jabbar spoke further on the topic on Monday, telling CNN's Don Lemon that the players who are resisting the vaccine and other protocols aren't being "good teammates or good citizens." He called out their "arrogance at disbelieving immunology and other medical experts," noting that they're "failing to live up to the responsibilities that come with celebrity," per Rolling Stone. He also likened the pandemic to a "war," noting, "Masks and vaccines ... are the weapons that we use to fight this war." Much more on what's going on behind the scenes in the NBA here. (Read more Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stories.)