Kyrie Irving makes appearance at Nets' outdoor practice

By Kristian Winfield

NEW YORK — Nets star guard Kyrie Irving made an appearance at the team’s annual Practice at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday. The unvaccinated star guard wore a mask as he was introduced to a crowd of rowdy fans who have yet to see their two-guard take the floor this season.

It was the first time Irving has been able to practice at home with his teammates — even if only for a community event at 1% speed — since New York City designated the HSS Training Facility a private office space on Friday. Irving is expected to practice with his teammates for real on Sunday before the Nets leave for Philadelphia to play the 76ers on Monday. His status for that game is unclear.

But he was available on Saturday, for a community event where diehard Nets fans and season ticket holders came out to support their team. The crowd cheered Irving louder than it did for Kevin Durant or James Harden. Those same fans remain uncertain whether they’ll see Irving at Barclays Center for home games this season.

Irving has not publicly spoken about his vaccination status, and the Nets have not confirmed his vaccination status, either. But reading between the lines, it’s easy to make the determination: Irving practiced with his teammates for training camp in San Diego, where there is no vaccination mandate, but he was ruled ineligible for Friday’s home preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He also had to participate in Media Day via Zoom because of the City’s vaccination mandate. However, if Media Day was Monday, he would have been able to attend in-person because it took place at the training facility, which is now a private office space.

Yet for a fleeting moment, an hour on the pier, vaccination status was a thing of the past. The star guard flung a mini ball into the crowd as he walked onto the cement courts on Pier 2. He signed autographs for fans and shared moments with a few. It was a perfect moment. Until it wasn’t.

This was only a taste of what’s to come this regular season. Nets fans couldn’t see Irving at a game, so the next best option was to catch him at the park. If Irving does not get at least his first COVID-19 vaccination shot, or find a loophole around getting the shot, he will be ineligible to play both at Barclays Center and at Madison Square Garden, a tally of 43 games worth more than $16 million in forfeited salary. And if the Nets decide to allow him to be a part-time player — that is, playing on the road and not in front of home fans — it could throw off the team’s chemistry as they look to build continuity for a championship run this season.

“We’ve got to control what we can control and stay focused as much as we can,” said Patty Mills, dodging Irving-related questions like Saquon Barkley dodges tackles. “I think we’re taking it one step at a time. So to have everybody here at this thing is pretty special.”

Mills projects to move up in the rotation if Irving is unable to play at home. He scored 13 points and dished three assists in the Nets’ Irving-less win over the Bucks on Friday.

“I don’t think my role — my role’s gonna be the same no matter what happens in the future,” Mills continued. “I think that’s understood, just controlling what I can control on the court and going about my business like I’ve always done. I’ve made the most of my opportunities that way.”

Nets veteran forward Paul Millsap did not appear at the Practice at the Park after entering the league’s health and safety protocols on Friday. Nets head coach Steve Nash did not give a timetable for Millsap’s leave, but the veteran either tested positive for COVID-19 himself or was in close proximity to someone who did, warranting an extended period of quarantine.

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