Kyrie Irving and Brooklyn Nets lose first return home game after vaccine exemption

Kyrie Irving is not about to look back now.  Not at a loss in his first home game.  Nor at how many more losses in home games might have been avoided if he were playing previously.

His refusal to be vaccinated against the coronavirus left him ineligible to play in home games until Sunday, when a 119-110 loss to the Charlotte Hornets dropped the Brooklyn Nets into a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

It took 75 games into the season for Irving to finally play at Barclays Center, and it may be too late for the Nets to turn into the championship contender that was widely expected. But he said the sacrifices of he and his teammates make his refusal to get vaccinated as mandated to perform in New York City worth it.

"That’s the only thing that I’m really focused on, is the now and getting back ready for the next game and just going from there," Irving said. "But the point of this season for me was never to just take a stand. It was really to make sure I’m standing on what I believe in and freedom. Freedom. I don’t think that’s a word that gets defined enough in our society, about the freedom to make choices in your life without someone telling you what the (expletive) to do."

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 27: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets pumps his fist against the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center on March 27, 2022 in New York City.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 27: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets pumps his fist against the Charlotte Hornets at Barclays Center on March 27, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Irving said that could apply to politicians or anyone who holds positions of power.

"So I’m standing for freedom, so that’s in all facets of my life and there’s nobody that’s enslaving me," Irving said. "There’s nobody telling me what I’m going to do with my life and that’s just the way I am."

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Irving's teammates and many of his fans seem to accept his stance. He got a loud ovation before the game from the sellout crowd of 18,166, the largest crowd ever for a Nets game at Barclays Center.

But, perhaps tired from playing on back-to-back nights for only the second time this season, his game wasn't there. He shot 6 for 22 from the field and finished with just 16 points and 11 assists.

"Not the result we wanted, but definitely grateful that we were part of history tonight and we got to do it here," Irving said.

The Nets didn't know when he would get opportunity until Mayor Eric Adams exempted athletes and entertainers from the mandate last week, in time for the end of the NBA regular season and for the start of the Major League Baseball's.

RELATED: Nets bringing back Kyrie Irving to play in road games

But with the loss Sunday giving the Hornets the head-to-head tiebreaker if the teams finish tied, the Nets would be ninth in the East if the season ended Sunday. That means they would need to win two games in the play-in tournament just to make the postseason.

It's doubtful they would be in that spot with a full-time Irving, a perennial All-Star who scored a career-high 60 points earlier this month.

"We’re not even looking at it. We’re not even thinking about it that way," Kevin Durant said. "He’s here now. This is the situation we’re in. Put our heads down and go to work."

They have seven games left, all but one of them in New York. Without Irving, the Nets could have been in real danger of not even making the playoffs.

With him, Brooklyn can still salvage the season, which is where Irving is focused.

"I mean honestly, there’s no time to consider the past," Irving said. "It’s not going to do anybody in our locker room or anybody any justice thinking about what could have been, the shoulds and the coulds. We only can control what we can control moving forward."