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    Why the ‘Scariest’ Night Didn’t Keep LaMarcus Aldridge Out of the N.B.A.

    Aldridge, the veteran Nets center, briefly retired after 15 seasons because of a heart issue. He was depressed — then determined to return.In April, Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge was staring into the abyss. He stunned the basketball world by announcing his retirement from the N.B.A. after experiencing an irregular heartbeat during a game. Aldridge had learned during his rookie season in 2006-7 that he had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which causes a rapid heartbeat, but that night in April, he said, was “one of the scariest” in his life.By his own telling, he was depressed about having his career cut short. Except it turned out that he had more basketball left in him. In the off-season, Aldridge, 36, was medically cleared to return to the N.B.A., which was almost as surprising as his retirement. He came back to the Nets.“I wanted to fight through and come back and show that I still can play this game,” he said in a recent interview, adding that he wanted to win a championship and “be a part of something special.”The early returns have been strong. He has been one of the team’s most productive players, averaging 11.6 points and 5 rebounds on 62.9 percent shooting over nine games off the bench through the Nets’ 116-103 win over the Raptors on Sunday. He recently scored his 20,000th point, making him one of seven active players to reach the milestone. Despite a basketball résumé with seven All-Star and five All-N.B.A. selections, Aldridge has never received the attention of the others in the 20,000-point club, like his teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden.In part, it is because Aldridge has largely eschewed some of the perks that come with N.B.A. stardom and has avoided the media spotlight. His best years came in Portland, where he spent the first nine years of his career. There, playing with teammates such as Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and Damian Lillard, Aldridge has said that he felt uncertain of his place in the pecking order, despite being near the top of the franchise’s career leaderboards in most categories.He surprised many by leaving Portland before the 2015-16 season for San Antonio, where he helped lead the Spurs to the Western Conference finals in 2017.In a recent interview at the Nets’ practice facility, Aldridge discussed his retirement that wasn’t, his future plans and his new lease on basketball.This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.You told The Athletic after the announcement that you were depressed after retiring. Describe to me the feelings you have now. Is there fear?No. I feel excitement, joy, to be back doing what I love to do. And to have what happened and have it taken away so quickly, and to now be back in it, I feel joy. I’m thankful. I’m enjoying every minute of it as I’m out there. No fear. I went through enough testing where fear is no factor.What was that first day of training camp like, where you’re running up and down the floor?It was exciting to be back with the group that I knew the previous year. It was exciting to show that I still can play this game. I wasn’t gone long, but I feel like people feel like I was gone for, like, a whole year, and it was like five months. I feel like everyone was like questioning, “Can he still play after retiring?”Do you remember what the first day of retirement was like?The first day didn’t feel real. The first day felt like I had an off day. And then your second day, you feel like it’s a game day, so you’re just at home. And after like a week or two, you’re like: “Man, I’m not at the gym. I’m not with the fellas. I’m not traveling, not playing.” Like two weeks in, I was like: “Man, this is what it is. I have to find my new interest, shift my focus to something else.” That’s when it hit me, like, “Man, what’s next?”You said a couple years ago you’re probably one of the most misunderstood players in the league. Do you still feel that way?Not here, no. I think as people get to know me, they realize I’m not about any drama. I’m not about any friction. I just want to be appreciated for what I do, and let’s go win. That’s all. I feel like clickbait and television, it was things that were made up over the years to make me out to be some type of person, but I’m not that person.Once I’m on your team, I’m on your side. I’m down the whole way. I’ve got your back, no matter what. And I feel like, as people have gotten to know me, they’ve seen that, so I’m not worried about that anymore. I’m the guy that would give you the shirt off my back if you needed it, and I was being painted as this selfish guy, which I’m not nowhere near that.I’ve seen you describe yourself as an introvert. I’ve seen other people describe you as quiet and reserved. But I don’t actually see that. I see you pretty chatty with teammates. Have you become more outgoing over time?This is my comfort zone. This is my safe space. We go to war together. We’re in the trenches together. We’re battling together. So then you get that extra chemistry. You get that extra connection with them. But no, they would definitely tell you, other than that, I’m pretty quiet. On the bus, I don’t really talk.You’ve talked about feeling overlooked in the past, in spite of your sterling basketball résumé, because you don’t do as much media. You don’t do the red carpet stuff. You’re not doing commercials and interviews.Introvert! [LAUGHTER]Exactly. Is there a part of you that wishes you did more of that?No. I am who I am, and I don’t have any regrets of the things I’ve done with my career as far as more cameos. When I was in “Portlandia,” that was fun. I did, like, little things that I thought would be fun for me. But no, I don’t regret that, because that’s not really my brand. I’m more about hard hat and just go to work.Chris Bosh, after he retired early, talked about how, in retirement, one of the hardest things to come to grips with is not having a full schedule anymore. And not being around teammates or cheered by fans. And the guys that were texting you every day and aren’t texting you as much because you’re not part of the crew anymore. How did you deal with that?I’m to myself more than most, so the guys not texting me didn’t affect me. I don’t really text with guys now. But the whole traveling and your schedule, you have to figure out how to do it, how to fill that void. Because if you don’t, you end up feeling lost and kind of like, “What’s next?” That was very, very tough.Your first week or two is tough, because you go from busy, busy, busy to just — your phone’s quiet. Not even just from teammates. Just like, “Be at practice” or “Be at shootaround.” It goes from that to just this tranquil quietness that you could enjoy, but you’re also uncomfortable with, because you never had it.You’ve said you’ve talked to Damian Lillard about finishing your career in Portland. That seems to suggest to me that there may be some more years left after this one. Is that fair to say?I’m going year to year, but I definitely, how I feel now, how I’m moving now, I definitely have some more years in me. I feel rejuvenated, refreshed and just ready to go. More

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    Nets Fall to Bucks With Irving Nowhere in Sight

    Coach Steve Nash and the team’s other stars, Kevin Durant and James Harden, have had to re-envision a plan on the fly.It was difficult to ignore the Kyrie Irving-sized elephant not in the room as the Nets opened the season by getting pummeled, 127-104, by the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night.It was only one game, but the Nets missed Irving in their starting lineup. They missed him on offense. They missed him as they struggled to work out rotations that kept one star on the floor at all times as they tried in vain to keep pace with the Bucks.And the Nets will continue to miss him for the foreseeable future, or at least until they lift his banishment from the team over his refusal to accept a coronavirus vaccine. That position has rendered Irving ineligible to play home games in Brooklyn, leading the Nets to temporarily bar him from playing at all and forcing Coach Steve Nash and the team’s other stars, Kevin Durant and James Harden, to re-envision a plan on the fly.After one night, at least, Durant was preaching patience.“It is one game out of 82 of them,” he said after collecting 32 points and 11 rebounds. “Every team feels that way.”The Bucks played like a team familiar with each other, starting mostly the same players that formed the core of the lineup that led the franchise to a championship last season. Three of their best players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez — are in their fourth year of starting together. The Nets, meanwhile, began with a lineup that had very little familiarity with each other, including in the preseason, and nearly every player who received significant minutes off the bench was a new addition to the team this season.“They’ve got some continuity that a lot of teams don’t have,” Durant said knowingly of the Bucks.The lineup the Nets expected to run out was supposed to feature a murderers’ row on offense, a wealth of options that would allow Nash more flexibility to manage Durant and Harden’s minutes. Instead, with Irving absent, the Nets kept one of either Durant or Harden on the floor at all times on Tuesday to generate offense. The Nets only sporadically looked fluid, something that surely would have been helped with the skills of an exceptional point guard and shooter like Irving.Without him, the mantra from the Nets afterward was that the loss to the Bucks was one game of many, and that cohesion will come. The Nets have to build chemistry almost from scratch, while Milwaukee’s mission is to maintain the already developed core.“We know what level we’ve got to get to,” said Harden, who finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. “We will get to that level. It’s Game 1 of a new season.”“Honestly, we’re excited about this season,” Harden added. “This might have made us even more excited just because we know that there’s a level that we’ve got to get to that we’re not even close.”One game or not: Last season, the Nets did not lose by 20 points or more until Game 45. .“One thing that disappointed me more than anything were loose balls and hustle plays — they seemed to win them all,” Nash said. “As we’re trying to find ourselves and explore different rotations and find that cohesion, we’ve got to make it more uncomfortable for people.”There was one positive for the Nets on Tuesday: Patty Mills, who came off the bench and made seven 3-pointers. Mills, 33, joined the Nets in free agency from the San Antonio Spurs and has been a reserve for almost his entire 13-year career. He is nowhere near as skilled as Irving, but showed on Tuesday that he had the ability to pick up some of the playmaking if needed.“We’re going to need that from Patty,” Durant said. “We talked the other day about him being aggressive. To be a scorer. To be a playmaker. Tonight was no different. He came out and gave us great energy to start.”The goal for the Nets is to be so good that the basketball world can stop discussing Irving’s vaccination status. On Tuesday, though, Irving remained a significant point of discussion.Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks started the new season with a win.Michael Mcloone/USA Today Sports, via ReutersBefore the game, Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, was asked on TNT what message he would send to Irving, if he could.“I would tell him to be vaccinated, first and foremost for himself and his family,” Silver said. “Next for his teammates and his community and also for the league that I know he cares so much about.“I understand that it’s not just Kyrie. There are people in this country who disagree with the notion of getting vaccinated, but at least from everything that I understand, science is firmly on the side of getting vaccinated.”It’s likely — given the Nets’ talent — that Tuesday night’s performance will end up being a blip on the radar. After all, in 2019, the Los Angeles Lakers lost by double digits on opening night to their crosstown rivals, the Clippers, and ended up winning the championship with a roster of mostly new players.But if it’s more than a blip, this is the reality for the Nets: Irving’s absence will hang over the team. If there are more games like Tuesday ahead, they will need to fill that Irving-sized hole at point guard. More

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    N.B.A. Eastern Conference Preview: The Bucks Aren't Finished Yet

    The Bucks might be better, while the Sixers and Nets are playing wait-and-see with key stars. The Eastern Conference could play out in several ways.Here lie the N.B.A.’s most compelling story lines.Potential contenders in the Eastern Conference scrambled during the off-season to assemble teams fit to knock off Giannis Antetokounmpo — now with a new, improved jump shot? — and the reigning N.B.A. champion Milwaukee Bucks. Even the conference’s perennial bottom feeders built rosters that will demand attention from basketball devotees. Some teams are just hoping that distractions don’t derail their seasons before they start.Many wonder how the Ben Simmons situation in Philadelphia will end. The 76ers seemed locked in a stalemate with Simmons, a three-time All-Star, who has wanted to be traded for months. Simmons ended his holdout midway through the preseason and reported to the team but has not played. The 76ers have said they want him on their roster, but if they persuade him to stay, can they really go forward with business as usual?Meanwhile, the Nets have a bona fide championship roster. They know this, and even with the distraction of Kyrie Irving’s murky status because he’s not vaccinated, they expect to hoist the Larry O’Brien championship trophy at season’s end.Could the N.B.A.’s balance of power, which has long rested in the West, be shifting to the East? Here’s a look at how the Eastern Conference shapes up this season.Miami HeatIn some ways, it seems so long ago. But little more than a year has passed since the Heat plowed their way to the 2020 finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Was it a fluke, aided by playing under the unusual conditions of a bubble environment, with no fans? The Heat were up and down last season before the Milwaukee Bucks ejected them from the 2021 playoffs in a lopsided first-round series.Jimmy Butler needs to be efficient. Duncan Robinson needs to be consistent. Tyler Herro needs to recapture his assertiveness. And Bam Adebayo needs to keep making the sort of strides that have pushed him toward becoming a perennial All-Star.The team should benefit from two additions: Kyle Lowry, who at 35 left the Raptors after nine seasons, and P.J. Tucker, who helped the Bucks win the championship last season.Philadelphia 76ersThe Sixers don’t need Ben Simmons to be competitive (they do have Joel Embiid, pictured), but they are better with him.Matt Slocum/Associated PressBen Simmons is, for now, back in the City of Brotherly Love.Simmons, who reportedly demanded a trade in late August and missed training camp, reported to the 76ers ahead of their third preseason game but did not play. Simmons’s future in Philadelphia remains unclear, though. He still has four years left on his maximum contract.With or without him, Philadelphia is antsy to win now. Joel Embiid is coming off the best season of his career, when he finished second in the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award. The 76ers were the No. 1 seed in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs but collapsed in the semifinals, continuing their inability to turn regular-season wins into deep postseason success.Philadelphia is a better team with Simmons, 25, despite his offensive shortcomings. But even if he doesn’t play anytime soon, Embiid, Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris should be experienced enough to keep the Sixers in contention.New York KnicksThe Knicks doubled down on last season’s roster, which unexpectedly made the playoffs then flamed out — albeit after a brilliant flare — in the first round. The veterans Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson are back, but Elfrid Payton, who triggered an influx of gray hairs for fans, is not. The additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker are significant, and should help take the offensive load off RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, who signed a four-year contract extension in the off-season.This feels like a make-or-break year for the 23-year-old Mitchell Robinson, the center who is up for an extension and can jump through the roof. At his best, he protects the rim and is an excellent roll man. But he has had difficulty staying healthy. Look for bigger roles for Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, who each showed promise off the bench as rookies last season.The Knicks should easily make the playoffs, but their bench depth is a question mark.Milwaukee BucksThe Bucks kept the band together. Same coach. Same star. Same core — mostly. And why not? Fresh off their first championship since 1971, the Bucks seem poised for a title defense.The challenge could be fatigue. Because of the pandemic, their postseason run stretched into July, and two starters — Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — helped the U.S. Olympic team win gold in August. The Bucks also lost P.J. Tucker, invaluable in the late stages of last season, to the Heat in free agency.But Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time M.V.P., is still the face of the franchise and the proud owner of a newly minted championship ring. And he may be better than ever, showing off an improved jump shot in the preseason. With a contract that runs through the 2025-26 season, he is not going anywhere anytime soon.Atlanta HawksAtlanta guard Trae Young led the Hawks on a surprising run through the first two rounds of the playoffs last season.Brett Davis/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAfter a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals last year, the Hawks enter the season with the burden of expectations and the benefit of continuity. This team is deep and should compete to be one of the best in the East.Most of the key players are back. The Hawks locked in their two best players, Trae Young and John Collins, with long-term extensions. Coach Nate McMillan will be running the team from opening night, as opposed to being thrust into the job midseason as he was during the last campaign after Lloyd Pierce was fired.Atlanta almost pulled off a miracle run to the N.B.A. finals last season, after taking down the Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers, but were bedeviled by injuries against the eventual champions, the Milwaukee Bucks. Players who were unavailable or not 100 percent, like De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic, are expected to start the season with clean bills of health. The Hawks also added some quality veteran bench pieces in Gorgui Dieng and Delon Wright, and an intriguing rookie they drafted late in this year’s first round, Jalen Johnson.Charlotte HornetsLaMelo Ball, last season’s rookie of the year, highlights Charlotte’s promising young core. He’ll likely be the Hornets’ primary facilitator and already has great court vision and playmaking ability, and he is continuing to improve his jump shot.Ball and forward Miles Bridges in the pick-and-roll were elite last season, with Bridges’s power at the basket and Ball’s precise lob placement on display. That pairing should only be better this season.The Hornets already had solid veterans in Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, and they added Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee. Oubre is an inconsistent shooter, but could be impactful in transition. Plumlee is a versatile big man.This group won’t be knocking at the door of the N.B.A. finals this season, but the Hornets will be a fun team to watch, and have a real chance at a playoff berth.Brooklyn NetsWith the addition of Patty Mills and Paul Millsap, as well as the return of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Nets, on paper, are one of the best teams in N.B.A. history. In normal circumstances, they would be title favorites, given their Big Three of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant. But that was the case last year too, and the Nets bowed out in the second round of the playoffs.Health will be the principle factor for determining how far the Nets go. All of the Nets’ top players have significant miles on their legs and have missed substantial time in recent years.If there is a potentially weak point for other teams to exploit, it is defensively, where the Nets struggled last season, and their off-season additions didn’t seriously address that. This could come back to bite them in the postseason, particularly in the frontcourt against players like Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored at will during last year’s playoffs, or Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.But the offensive firepower is top notch. It’s hard to see the Nets being beaten in a seven-game series if they’re healthy.Chicago BullsDeMar DeRozan gives the new-look Chicago Bulls a threat from the mid-range.Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports, via ReutersChicago could be a sneaky-good team this season.Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, voiced displeasure with the team’s 31-41 record shortly after last season. Since then, he’s added DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley to a roster with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, whom Chicago acquired from Orlando at the March trade deadline.DeRozan is lethal in the midrange, but some have questioned how he’ll fit with LaVine, as both players are most effective with the ball in their hands. Chicago will have an upgrade at point guard with Ball, who is a deft passer. And Caruso will add a rugged spark off the bench. Coach Billy Donovan will have to figure out how they all fit on the court.In any event, Michael Jordan said that with the changes the Bulls made, they could compete in the East. How long has it been since those words were last spoken?Toronto RaptorsIt’s a new era in Toronto basketball. Kyle Lowry, perhaps the most lauded Raptor in franchise history, has gone to Miami. Without him, the Raptors are likely stuck between being too talented to get a top draft pick and not being so good that they’ll contend for a top seed in the conference.But there may be an opening for Toronto in the turbulent East: Scottie Barnes, whom the team surprisingly drafted at No. 4 this year, showed potential in the preseason. And the Raptors’ frontcourt, helmed by Chris Boucher and the newly acquired Precious Achiuwa, will be a force.There are lots of questions for the Raptors entering the season: Is Pascal Siakam, who is expected to miss the start of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, a true franchise cornerstone? Will Lowry’s replacement at guard, the 35-year-old Goran Dragic, last the season in Toronto? Or will Masai Ujiri, the Raptors head of basketball operations, flip Dragic’s expiring contract?Detroit PistonsYou’d be hard pressed to find any Pistons fans who haven’t already crowned the rookie guard Cade Cunningham as their Magic Johnson. Johnson, of course, won an N.B.A. title as a rookie after the Lakers drafted him No. 1 overall in 1979.Detroit drafted Cunningham, a savvy scorer and shot creator, No. 1 overall earlier this year to hopefully lift itself out of years of irrelevancy. An ankle injury sidelined him in the preseason, and the team is being cautious.Detroit’s young group showed promise last season, despite finishing with the worst record in the East, but the Pistons are another team in rebuilding mode. Coach Dwane Casey has said that this season’s goal is to earn a spot in the postseason play-in tournament.Cleveland CavaliersOnly someone like LeBron James could render an entire franchise into an afterthought. But that was what he effectively did when he departed the Cavaliers for the glamour of Hollywood in 2018, leaving them to rummage through the wilderness without him. The Cavaliers instantly went from title contender to lightweight, though the team has some up-and-comers — highlighted by Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in the backcourt — who are cause for cautious optimism.None of this is to suggest that the Cavaliers will come anywhere close to sniffing the playoffs. But a slow, steady rebuild — augmented by smart draft picks — is the way back to respectability. And there is more good news: Kevin Love (remember him?) has just two seasons remaining on his gargantuan deal, which could make him a more appealing target on the trade market.Boston CelticsJayson Tatum has shown promise with Boston, but postseason success has so far eluded him.Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports, via ReutersFrom the start of training camp, Ime Udoka, the Celtics’ first-year coach, has had a particular emphasis: ball movement. He does not want the ball to stick. He wants his players to work together to generate the best shots.This must have been welcome news to fans who got tired of watching the Celtics’ offense devolve into isolation sets last season. Jayson Tatum, 23, and Jaylen Brown, who will turn 25 this month, form one of the most talented young tandems in the league, but fulfilling their promise in the postseason has so far eluded them.Perhaps Udoka can help them deliver. He replaced Brad Stevens, who moved to the front office after a posting .500 record and losing in the first round of the playoffs in his eighth season as the team’s coach.Washington WizardsWes Unseld Jr., Washington’s new head coach, has a tall task ahead of him.The Wizards are not a championship-caliber team, even after adding solid veterans like Spencer Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell. So this season will be mostly about persuading Bradley Beal, who can become a free agent next summer, to make a long-term commitment to the franchise.It’s hard to win without multiple elite playmakers, and the Wizards have just one in Beal after trading Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers. But even in a yet another bridge year, the Wizards should, at the very least, have a playoff team. They’ll have the promising center Thomas Bryant back from injury, and the team can hope for some growth from its last two lottery picks, Deni Avdija (2020) and Rui Hachimura (2019).Orlando MagicThe Magic have a young team with a first-year head coach in Jamahl Mosley. They’ve made just two playoff appearances in the past nine seasons, and traded away their best players, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, in the middle of last season. Then they landed Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs at No. 5 in this year’s draft.Suggs joined a roster that is crowded at guard, with Markelle Fultz, who will return from a knee injury, RJ Hampton, Terrence Ross, Cole Anthony and Gary Harris. Suggs probably has the highest ceiling of those players, though, and he was solid in the summer league before injuring his thumb.The Magic will not be legitimate contenders for a while, so they have plenty of time to sort out their roster.Indiana PacersRick Carlisle, back for his second stint with the Pacers, is the team’s third coach in three seasons. Indiana could use some stability to help develop a young core that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, already a two-time All-Star at 25.But the Pacers, who have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2014, are coming off a 34-38 season, and Caris LeVert is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his back.Carlisle coached the Pacers for four seasons, from 2003 to 2007, while guiding them to three postseason appearances. It will take some hard work to get them there again. More

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    The Nets Had a Chance to Win Over New York. Now, They’ll Try Again.

    Right after the final buzzer sounded on Game 7 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Nets during the N.B.A.’s Eastern Conference semifinals last spring, Giovannie Cruz had to leave his house in Elizabeth, N.J., and go to a nearby park. Cruz, an avowed Nets fan for most of his 39 years, had watched the game with his 4-year-old son and “acted like a lunatic” until the end, when the Nets lost in heartbreaking fashion.“I literally walked around that park for almost an hour from the sheer disappointment,” Cruz said. “I didn’t want my son to see me too animated and use too much colorful language.”Last season was supposed to be the year, the season when the Nets and their fans — both the long suffering and the newcomers — would no longer be an afterthought in the N.B.A. The last time a pro sports team from Brooklyn won a championship, Jackie Robinson was wearing a uniform for the Dodgers in Major League Baseball. It was 1955.But there was more at stake for the Nets last season than simply winning a championship. In a city dominated by Knicks fans, a title could have allowed the Nets to plant a basketball-shaped flag (and raise a banner) in their efforts to shift the balance of power away from Madison Square Garden and put Knicks fans in their place. Just ask one of the Nets’ most prominent backers, the mayor of New York.Giovannie Cruz was so overwhelmed by the Nets’ elimination in the playoffs last season that he left his home in Elizabeth, N.J., to take a walk.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times“I really feel like this is the final act in the renaissance of Brooklyn and giving Brooklyn its rightful place in the world, and that has tremendous importance for the city going forward,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime Brooklyn resident before his 2014 inauguration, said in an interview before Game 3 of the semifinals series, when the Nets were up 2-0 and a championship run seemed inevitable.The renaissance will have to wait. This summer, the Nets retooled their roster, somehow managing to add talent to one of the best on-paper assemblies in N.B.A. history. With veterans like Patty Mills and Paul Millsap now coming off the bench and healthy versions of Kevin Durant and James Harden ready to take the floor, the expectations for the Nets will be sky high. That’s true even if Kyrie Irving, barred from games until he gets vaccinated, doesn’t play for a while. But if the Nets don’t win at least one ring, this era most likely will be considered one of the biggest flops ever — and the Nets will have blown their best chance to cut into the suddenly resurgent Knicks’ hold on the city.“We don’t want to be just the most popular N.B.A. team in New York City,” John Abbamondi, the chief executive of the Nets, said in an interview at Barclays before that Game 7. “We want to be a global sporting icon on the level of a Real Madrid or Barcelona. That’s our aspiration.”Nine years ago, the Nets played their first season in Brooklyn, after being in New Jersey since 1977 following the merger with the A.B.A. The team had some success with the fast-paced teams of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin in the early 2000s, but it spent most of its history in the basketball wilderness, rarely attracting stars or playing in important games.“It was kind of rough at that time,” said Trenton Hassell, a guard who ended his career with the Nets in New Jersey from 2008 to 2010. “We had true fans still coming, but we were doing a lot of losing so that was tough.”The Nets have drawn increasing numbers of fans to home games, helped by the recent addition of three marquee players: Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York TimesMoving to Brooklyn was a new start on many levels. They had a shiny new arena, new branding and a spotlight-grabbing minority owner in Jay-Z, who was often on the sidelines with his megastar wife, Beyoncé.Old and new Nets fans are blending and forging a new collective identity. The cheers at Barclays Center are often most prominent from 96 or so fans who sit in Section 114. The die-hards there, called the Brooklyn Brigades, are sponsored by the team and are known for their creative chants. That’s a far cry from the early days in Brooklyn, when rival fans often outnumbered those of the Nets and Barclays had middling attendance overall.Richard Bearak has been a Nets fan since the 1970s and was at the championship in 1976. He’s the director of land use for Eric Adams, who is the Brooklyn borough president and the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City. When Barclays first opened to the public, Bearak said, the arena was a “tourist attraction” that drew fans of winning, opposing teams.“A third of the crowd could have been supporting Golden State,” Bearak, 63, said. “At Madison Square Garden, it’s really hard to be a fan of another team and expect to be there in droves.”When the Nets first arrived from the Meadowlands in 2012, they did so as an interloper in some eyes. First, there were the fans in New Jersey who resented losing their team. And in Brooklyn, there were those who believed Barclays, which was part of a $6 billion commercial and residential redevelopment, would do more harm to the area than good — particularly with concerns about gentrification and congestion.A 2014 study by The New York Times based on Facebook data showed that after two seasons in Brooklyn, the Knicks were the more popular team in every New York City ZIP code, except the neighborhoods surrounding Barclays — in part because of the new residents who had moved to the remade downtown area. In response, the Village Voice referred to the Nets as “Gentrification’s Team.”Durant, who wears No. 7 for the Nets, Harden and Irving had three of the top-10 selling jerseys in each half of last season.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times“We didn’t have a fan base for New York or Brooklyn at all,” said Irina Pavlova, then a top executive with the company of the team’s owner at the time, Mikhail Prokhorov. “It was zero. It was starting from scratch, especially in a city like New York, where the Knicks are such an institution.”Pavlova said the franchise focused on using “Brooklyn” as the main calling card to recruit new fans instead of the team name, as other franchises do. The fruits of that marketing effort can still be seen today, when the most common team chant is a drawn out “Broooooklyn!”“That was done to appeal to the residents of the borough since they didn’t have a team to root for,” Pavlova said.The people cheering for the Nets these days can generally be placed in four boxes. 1. Fans since the Nets were in the A.B.A. and playing in Long Island, like Bearak. 2. New Jersey-era fans like Cruz. 3. New, Brooklyn-era fans. 4. Those who root for specific stars, no matter their team.That last group is the hardest to track and may be the most crucial for the future of the Nets in the N.B.A., where star players are more influential than in other team sports. Irving, Durant and Harden brought in an uncertain number of transient fans. In the first and second halves of last season, the A-list trio had three of the league’s 10 highest selling jerseys.Dawn Risueno, 53, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, became a Nets fan in 1990 because her ex-boyfriend preferred them over the Knicks.Nets fans Justin Messier and Dawn Risueno.Brittainy Newman for The New York TimesBrittainy Newman for The New York TimesShe has spent several years following the team across the country as part of an annual road trip. She converted her sports-agnostic husband of 18 years to the cause, and brought along her two children and seven grandchildren.“They didn’t have a choice in the matter,” Risueno said of her children and grandchildren. “Since they came literally out of the womb, I’ve had them in Nets outfits.”Bobby Edemeka, 46, a portfolio manager who was born and raised in Brooklyn, said he used to follow players instead of teams. But the Nets’ relocation to his hometown instilled pride, and Edemeka founded the Brooklyn Brigades group, which was unofficial until the Nets began sponsoring it in 2018. (Edemeka used to buy bundles of tickets and offer them for free to prospective Nets fans.)“You can travel the whole world and you’re not going to find people more proud of where they’re from than New Yorkers, and I think that goes especially so for people from Brooklyn,” Edemeka said.For pre-Brooklyn fans like Cruz, loving the team means “waiting for the bottom to fall out at all times.” Cruz lived through the 2009-10 season, when the team went 12-70. Still, Cruz was upset to see the Nets leave New Jersey two years later. He kept rooting for the team nonetheless. Many New Jerseyans didn’t.For newer fans like Edemeka, their Nets memories are mostly highlights. The team has made the playoffs in six of its nine seasons at Barclays. There have been two playoff series wins. There hasn’t actually been much suffering, all things considered.Judy and Bruce Rezmick — ‘Mr. and Mrs. Whammy’ — try to throw off the Minnesota Timberwolves with hand symbols.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times“I don’t have any of that emotional baggage,” said Edemeka, a season-ticket holder for all of the Nets seasons. “I didn’t live through 12 and 70. I’m unburdened by that legacy.”Old Nets fans and all but the newest Knicks fans know a thing or two about emotional baggage. And yet the relative success of the Nets in Brooklyn, alongside the mostly dreary days at Madison Square Garden during the same period, has not broken the city’s devotion to the Knicks.There is, in theory, a concrete way to close that gap. Fans go further to associate themselves with winners, as documented in a landmark fan behavior study by Robert B. Cialdini in 1976 — a psychological concept known as “basking in reflected glory.” The opposite — disassociating from losing teams — is known as “cutting off reflected failure.” The study found that fans are likely to say “we” in reference to their favorite team’s winning but “they” if the team loses.Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University, said that if the Knicks remained the more inept team, younger generations in the city not yet dug in on team allegiances may precipitate a cultural shift.“The Knicks could rule almost by default,” Burton said of the Knicks before 2012. “But with social media, 500 television channels, a million websites, Brooklyn is not that far from any of the other boroughs, suddenly we have to talk about the fact that the Nets appear to have much more of a cachet than the Knicks.”But the flip side to that is, of course, not winning, which the Nets are intimately familiar with. The promising, but ultimately deflating, semifinal series last season showed that.“It’s always been so hard to be a Nets fan,” Cruz said.Brittainy Newman for The New York Times More

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    Kyrie Irving Defends Decision on Vaccine After Being Benched

    Kyrie Irving, the N.B.A. star who has been indefinitely barred from practicing or playing with the Brooklyn Nets because of his refusal to get the Covid-19 vaccine, spoke out publicly on Wednesday night for the first time since the team decided to keep him off the court, saying his refusal was a matter of personal freedom.“You think I really want to lose money?” Irving, who is set to earn about $40 million in salary this season, said on his Instagram feed in a meandering monologue that included incorrect medical information. More than 90 percent of players in the league are vaccinated, a proportion much higher than in the general population of the United States.“You think I really want to give up on my dream to go after a championship?” Irving, 29, said. “You think I really just want to give up my job? You think I really want to sit at home?”On Tuesday, the Nets said they had barred Irving from playing until he becomes “eligible to be a full participant.” New York City requires most teenagers and adults to have at least one vaccination shot to enter facilities such as sports arenas, and Irving has not practiced with the Nets in Brooklyn. Irving joined the Nets in 2019 as they built a team of superstars that includes Kevin Durant and James Harden.Irving asked that his decision to remain unvaccinated be respected and said that he has no plans to retire. He couched his refusal to get vaccinated in his opposition to mandates, saying nobody should be “forced” to do it.Irving falsely claimed his decision to remain unvaccinated does not harm other people. The highly contagious Delta variant has quickly spread in areas with low vaccination rates. And hospitals in those areas have been overrun with unvaccinated patients, leaving few beds and staff members to treat other patients. More

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    Nets Bar Kyrie Irving Until He's Vaccinated

    The barring of Irving complicates what looked like a surefire path to the finals for the Nets and could set up a battle with the players’ union.Kyrie Irving was supposed to be the starting point guard of the N.B.A.’s next dynasty. He was going to use his superb ball-handling skills to dish passes to Kevin Durant and James Harden, and together this Big Three would turn the Nets into champions season after season for years to come.Sure, Irving had suggested that the Earth was flat. But he had also delivered a championship to Cleveland alongside LeBron James, and he was a perennial All-Star. The Nets could stand a little quirkiness in pursuit of greatness.The Covid-19 vaccine, and Irving’s refusal to take it, could turn all of that upside down.As vaccine mandates roil workplaces across the country, a high-stakes stalemate in the N.B.A. took a dramatic turn on Tuesday when the Nets issued Irving an ultimatum: Get the shot, or stay home. In the process, the team has drawn a stark line over the issue of the vaccine with one of the more high-profile sports celebrities who has refused to get it.“Without a doubt, losing a player of Kyrie’s caliber hurts,” Sean Marks, the Nets’ general manager, said at a news conference. “I’m not going to deny that. But at the end of the day, our focus, our coaches’ focus and our organization’s focus needs to be on those players that are going to be involved here and participating fully.”Irving, 29, had faced the prospect of being able to play only on the road with the Nets this season because of local coronavirus ordinances in New York that require most individuals to be at least partially vaccinated to enter facilities such as sports arenas. The Nets play their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.Marks said the decision to bar Irving from all games and practices had been made by himself and by Joe Tsai, the Nets’ owner.“Will there be pushback from Kyrie and his camp? I’m sure that this is not a decision that they like,” Marks said. “Kyrie loves to play basketball, wants to be out there, wants to be participating with his teammates. But again, this is a choice that Kyrie had, and he was aware of that.”The Nets’ decision to sit Irving for the road games that he is eligible to play in sets the stage for a potential battle between the team and the players’ union, which had already been pushing back on the league’s plan to dock the pay of unvaccinated players for games they miss because of ordinances in their home cities.Irving, a union vice president, is due to lose about $380,000, or around 1 percent of his base pay for the 2021-22 season, for every home game he misses. Marks said Irving would still be paid for road games this season. The N.B.A. players’ union did not respond to a request for comment.Irving has not spoken publicly about his vaccination status, asking instead for privacy, and the Nets danced around the topic for weeks until Tuesday. In response to a question from The New York Times about whether Irving was vaccinated, Marks said: “If he was vaccinated, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think that’s probably pretty clear.”Although the union said last week that 96 percent of players had been vaccinated, a few have expressed hesitancy and most have not actively campaigned for others to be vaccinated. In late September, James, the game’s most famous player, said that he had gotten vaccinated after months of skepticism.“I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family,” James said.In his most recent public comments, Irving insisted that getting the shot was a matter of privacy.“Everything will be released at a due date and once we get this cleared up,” Irving said during a virtual meeting with reporters on Sept. 27, adding: “I’m a human being first. Obviously, living in this public sphere, it’s just a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world of Kyrie. I think I just would love to just keep that private, handle it the right way with my team and go forward together with the plan.”Irving has long been known as one of the league’s more mercurial figures, expressing unconventional opinions on a variety of topics since he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as the top overall draft pick in 2011.But he also has outsize influence within the league, and he led a bloc of players who disagreed with the N.B.A.’s decision to resume the 2019-20 season in a Florida bubble because of the pandemic, expressing concern that the move would limit the players’ social justice efforts after the police killing of George Floyd.Last season, Irving missed several games for unspecified personal reasons. During one of the stints when he was away from the team, video surfaced of him attending his sister’s birthday party without a mask, in violation of the league’s health and safety protocols. A few days later, while his teammates were preparing to play against the Denver Nuggets, he appeared on a Zoom call for supporters of the Manhattan district attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi.Still, Irving’s talents seemed to overshadow any distraction. Despite having little time to develop on-court chemistry because of injuries and other absences last season, the Nets appeared primed for a deep playoff run. But injuries to Irving and Harden hindered the Nets’ postseason hopes, and they lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.The Nets are still contenders this season — with or without Irving — though his presence would clearly help.But Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play, require all employees and guests 12 and older to show proof of having received at least one vaccine dose, to comply with a city mandate, unless they have a religious or medical exemption. San Francisco has a similar requirement that applies to Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play. The mandates in both cities mean that the players from the Knicks, Nets and Golden State cannot play in their teams’ 41 home games during the regular season without being vaccinated.The ordinances in New York and San Francisco do not apply to players from visiting teams. Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, for example, have been vocal about their refusals to be vaccinated.Either way, unvaccinated players face a host of rules and restrictions this season. With limited exceptions, they are required to remain at home or at the team hotel when they are not at games or practices. They also are not permitted to eat with vaccinated teammates, who have far more freedom to dine out and interact with the public.Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins was unvaccinated when he arrived for training camp but relented when he was faced with the local ordinances that would have barred him from games and cost him a great deal of money.“The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the N.B.A.” Wiggins said after Golden State’s preseason opener this month. “It was a tough decision. Hopefully, it works out in the long run and in 10 years I’m still healthy.”For now, Irving has remained steadfast. In the past, he stated that he wants his legacy to be about service rather than his work as a basketball player. He has gone to great efforts in that regard, although many of his inroads are outside any media spotlight.Irving purchased a home for Floyd’s family, according to the former N.B.A. player Stephen Jackson. During the W.N.B.A.’s bubble season, Irving started an initiative to provide $1.5 million to players who did not participate and would not be paid. His K.A.I. Family Foundation also teamed with City Harvest to donate 250,000 meals in New York.On Tuesday, Marks said he would be willing to welcome Irving’s return to the team “under a different set of circumstances.” More

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    NBA Vaccine Skeptics Speak Out

    More than 90 percent of players have received at least one dose of the vaccine, but some, like Nets guard Kyrie Irving, won’t say if they have been or plan to be vaccinated.More than 90 percent of N.B.A. players have been vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the league, and all referees and key team personnel without exemptions will be, too, by the season’s start in three weeks. But a few high-profile players, including the Nets star guard Kyrie Irving, have expressed skepticism about vaccines or been evasive about their vaccination status.Because the Nets are projected to be a top championship contender, and the team is one of just three whose players must be vaccinated to play in their home arenas, Irving’s vaccination status could be as much of a factor in the N.B.A. rankings as his team’s play.“I would like to keep all that private,” Irving told reporters on Monday in response to a question about whether he expected to play home games this season. “Please just respect my privacy. All the questions leading into what’s happening, just please. Everything will be released at a due date once we get this cleared up.”While the Nets held their media day at Barclays Center on Monday, Irving answered questions from reporters by video conference instead of in person. Multiple reports said that Irving was not present because of the league’s health protocols. In Rolling Stone magazine over the weekend, Irving’s aunt Tyki Irving was quoted as saying that Irving was unvaccinated for reasons “not religious-based, it’s moral-based.” It’s not clear when the interview took place.Since Sept. 13, Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play, have required all employees and guests ages 12 and up without a religious or medical exemption to show proof of having received at least one vaccine dose, to comply with a mandate from Mayor Bill de Blasio regarding sports arenas.A similar requirement in San Francisco applies to Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play. These mandates mean that the players from the Knicks, Nets and Golden State cannot play in their teams’ 41 home games without being vaccinated, which the N.B.A. and the New York arenas are defining as having received at least one dose. At Chase Center, players must be fully vaccinated. The N.B.A. has said that teams do not have to pay players for missing those games because they are not vaccinated. For Irving, who is in the third year of a four-year, $136 million contract, that could mean a substantial loss.The N.B.A. players’ union has not agreed to a vaccine mandate for its members, but the referees’ union did agree to one. All league and team personnel who come within 15 feet of players must be fully vaccinated unless they have religious or medical exemptions. In the W.N.B.A., 99 percent of players were fully vaccinated by June. The women’s league does not have a vaccination mandate.At least one N.B.A. player has tried to obtain a religious exemption to forgo the vaccine: Golden State guard Andrew Wiggins. The league said Friday that it had rejected his request. Like Irving, Wiggins would not discuss his vaccination status on Monday, during Golden State’s media day.“Who are you guys where I have to explain what I believe?” Wiggins said. “Or what’s right or what’s wrong in my mind?”In Washington at the Wizards’ media day, however, guard Bradley Beal explained why he is unvaccinated. The three-time All-Star missed the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for the coronavirus. Beal told reporters of the experience: “I didn’t get sick at all. I lost my smell, but that was it for me. Everybody is going to react differently.“Some people have bad reactions to the vaccine. Nobody likes to talk about that. What happens if one of our players gets the vaccine and can’t play after that? Or they have complications after that? Because there are cases like that.”There are no publicly known cases of professional basketball players missing time because of side effects related to the vaccine, and severe side effects are rare for anyone. However, some athletes have spoken about lingering respiratory and muscle issues after having Covid-19. The N.B.A. and the players’ union reported more than 75 positive coronavirus tests among players during the 2020-21 season, most of them before vaccines were widely available.Another vocal vaccine skeptic is the Orlando Magic’s Jonathan Isaac, a 23-year-old forward, who told Rolling Stone he was unvaccinated, and confirmed it on Monday to reporters.“At the end of the day, it’s people,” Isaac told the magazine, referring to the scientists who developed the vaccines. “And you can’t always put your trust completely in people.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-16ed7iq{width:100%;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;-webkit-box-pack:center;-webkit-justify-content:center;-ms-flex-pack:center;justify-content:center;padding:10px 0;background-color:white;}.css-pmm6ed{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;}.css-pmm6ed > :not(:first-child){margin-left:5px;}.css-5gimkt{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.8125rem;font-weight:700;-webkit-letter-spacing:0.03em;-moz-letter-spacing:0.03em;-ms-letter-spacing:0.03em;letter-spacing:0.03em;text-transform:uppercase;color:#333;}.css-5gimkt:after{content:’Collapse’;}.css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-eb027h{max-height:5000px;-webkit-transition:max-height 0.5s ease;transition:max-height 0.5s ease;}.css-6mllg9{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;position:relative;opacity:0;}.css-6mllg9:before{content:”;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg,transparent,#ffffff);background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(270deg,rgba(255,255,255,0),#ffffff);height:80px;width:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;pointer-events:none;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}According to Rolling Stone, Isaac was “studying Black history and watching Donald Trump’s press conferences” to inform his vaccine stance. (Former President Donald J. Trump was vaccinated in January, but states that he won in the 2020 election have much lower vaccination rates than those that favored President Biden.)On Monday, Isaac disputed the magazine’s characterization of him.“I’m not anti-vax. I’m not anti-medicine. I’m not anti-science. I didn’t come to my current vaccination status by studying Black history or watching Donald Trump press conferences,” Isaac said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for every health care worker and person in Orlando and all across the world that have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.”Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, who helped lead his team to the finals last season, announced on a Twitch livestream over the weekend that he had Covid-19 and had lost his senses of taste and smell. He is expected to miss at least part of training camp, which begins this week, as a result.“I’m not going to tell you guys if I have the vaccine or not, but you can still get Covid with the vaccine,” Booker said on the stream, adding, “Educate yourself.”Several players have participated in campaigns encouraging people to get vaccinated, including Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, whose mother died of Covid-19. Commissioner Adam Silver said in the spring that he expected most players to get vaccinated.Several of Irving’s teammates said on Monday that they were not worried about his vaccination status.“That’s on Kyrie, and that’s his personal decision,” Nets forward Kevin Durant said. “What he does is not on us to speculate what may be happening, but we trust in Kyrie. I expect us to have our whole team at some point.” More

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    Nets Rookie Day’Ron Sharpe Goes Apartment Shopping.

    Day’Ron Sharpe, the 29th overall pick in this year’s N.B.A. draft, is making himself at home in New York as he gets ready for his first season alongside the Nets’ big stars.Day’Ron Sharpe ducked his head under the doorway instinctively and scanned his eyes across the apartment. Its shape was a straight line running perpendicular to him with two bedrooms and a bathroom to his left; another bedroom and bathroom to his right; and a kitchen, living room and balcony opening up in bright light from big windows before him.In that moment, it didn’t matter that this brand-new building in Downtown Brooklyn was still coated in dust. It didn’t matter that he’d just taken an elevator that had insulation on the walls and plywood on the floor. It didn’t even matter that the construction crew had left behind a ladder and soda bottles in the living room, or that the fire alarm was shrieking a low-battery warning every 60 seconds. All that mattered was this: He could imagine himself being at home in this apartment.Sharpe had been on his house-hunting journey for only an hour, and already he was behaving like a lifelong New York City apartment shopper. He overlooked the apartment’s flaws and instead focused on its attributes. He smiled and declared: “Oh, yeah, this is the one.”Sharpe wanted his new apartment to have enough room for his mother, father, cousin and, of course, video games.Calla Kessler for The New York TimesWhen most people enter the work force, they get at least some say in where they will live. But that’s not the case for elite N.B.A. prospects like Sharpe, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound center from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Phoenix Suns selected Sharpe with the 29th pick in July’s N.B.A. draft and traded his rights to the Nets. And his calendar over the next month was as crowded as the city itself. He first flew to New York to complete his physical and sign his contract. Then he returned home to North Carolina to pack his bags for Summer League in Las Vegas. He spent most of August in Nevada before making another pit stop in North Carolina on his way back to New York.Now it was Aug. 28, and Sharpe, 19, needed to find an apartment for the first time in his adult life. And he needed to do it before the Nets began their training camp on Sept. 28.If all of this felt overwhelming, Sharpe didn’t show it. He was dressed casually in gray sweatshorts, a black T-shirt and high-top Jordan 5s. From the back seat of his chauffeured black Cadillac Escalade, he marveled at Manhattan’s skylines and made mental notes of the restaurants people had recommended. On the way into the first apartment — a 1,600-square foot, 23rd floor three-bedroom with unobstructed views of Midtown — Sharpe saw an Ample Hills Creamery store. “That’s a huge bonus,” he said. “I’ve heard that ice cream is really good. I can’t wait to try it.”Sharpe had several priorities for his new apartment, and fortunately, he had the budget for them. The N.B.A. employs a pay scale for first-round picks, so Sharpe will earn around $2 million this year from his Nets salary alone, and more than $6 million if he does nothing more than remain on the team’s roster for three seasons. In a city where nearly half of all households spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and nearly a quarter spend more than 50 percent, Sharpe’s salary is a luxury. Although his financial adviser told him not to worry about his rent, the units he considered cost no more than $10,000 a month, which would amount to about 5 percent of his gross income.Besides staying within the budget, he wanted to be close both to the Nets’ practice facility in Industry City and to Barclays Center in Prospect Heights. He wanted a place that was pet friendly because he plans to adopt a dog. He wanted good Wi-Fi so that he could play Call of Duty: Warzone and NBA 2K. And he wanted a three-bedroom apartment so his parents, Derrick and Michelle Sharpe, and his cousin, Trevion Williams, could live with him.Sharpe, center, and his parents Derrick, right, and Michelle.Calla Kessler for The New York Times“Family is the most important thing to me,” Sharpe said. “I wouldn’t be here without them, and I’m glad they will be here with me as I get my start in the N.B.A.”Sharpe grew up in Greenville, an eastern North Carolina city with a population a shade under 100,000. He was always a Tar Heel fan, and his childhood dream of playing basketball for them started to become a reality when he grew a foot between sixth and eighth grade and entered South Central High School at 6-foot-7. In 10th grade, he took his first trip to New York, for a basketball tournament. He gawked at the glowing billboards in Times Square and remembered thinking: “This place is seriously crowded.”As a high school junior, he led the Falcons to a 30-1 record and an Class 4A state championship. He got his first feel for living independently as a senior in high school, when he transferred to Montverde Academy, Florida’s prep powerhouse. He shared a room — and a bunk bed — with Caleb Houstan, who now plays for Michigan. Sharpe took the top bunk so that his feet could dangle off the foot of the twin bed. “People think I need a huge bed,” he said, “but I’d be happy if I just had a queen at this point.”There is a piano in the recreation room of one of the apartments Sharpe toured.Calla Kessler for The New York TimesSharpe came off the bench during his single season at North Carolina, but he had an outsize influence in his 19.2 minutes per game. His 18.2 offensive rebounding percentage was No. 1 in the nation, per KenPom.com. When Sharpe declared for the N.B.A. draft, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams, who retired after the season, called him “one of the greatest rebounders I’ve ever coached.” Sharpe’s averages per 40 minutes of 19.8 points and 15.8 rebounds pointed to his potential impact if he had been given more playing time. N.B.A. teams admired his ability to pass out of the post and his comfort in playing in a pick-and-roll offensive style that dominates the league. He figures to fit into the Nets’ rotation — which is thin on big men — early on this season.But before he finds his place with the Nets, he had to find his place in Brooklyn.He liked the 23rd-floor unit, even though the master bedroom, he said, “was smaller than my dorm room.” His realtor, Joshua Lieberman of Douglas Elliman, laughed and told him that was something he might have to live with. But Sharpe couldn’t abide by their pet policy. The building manager told him that he could have a dog, but it would need to be on the smaller side. “I want a big dog,” he said. “I mean, really big. I’m a big guy. I can’t be out here with a little Chihuahua.”Lieberman assured him that the issues with the second apartment — the one with the dust, the litter and the alarm — were to be expected in new construction. On the plus side, he’d be the first person to live in the unit, and among the first renters in the building, which featured a roof deck with a doggy playground, two lounges, a business center, a two-story gym with a sauna and a steam room, and a mini movie theater. Sharpe liked that he and his cousin could have adjoining bedrooms, while his parents had the master on the opposite end of the unit. “There’s two of them,” he said, “and only one of me. As long as I’ve got my bed and my games, I’m good.”Sharpe took his first trip to New York when he was in 10th grade and was awed by the billboards and crowds of Times Square.Calla Kessler for The New York TimesThe final listing for the day was in Brooklyn Heights, closer to the Nets’ practice facility. The building somehow had even more amenities, including a dance room and a virtual golf simulator, but the unit had only two bedrooms and one bathroom, and Sharpe didn’t want to make his cousin sleep on the couch all season. Not even an envy-inducing view of the Statue of Liberty could persuade him.After the final listing, he climbed back into the Escalade and asked the driver to take him downtown to get his parents some pizza. When the car stopped, he noticed that he was back at Ample Hills. Sharpe realized he was only a mile away from the apartment he had dubbed “the one” and he said that it was time to get some ice cream. Inside the shop, the first flavor he saw was Coffee Toffee Coffee, and he ordered it without so much as looking at more than a dozen other options. This was a day for decisiveness.He took the ice cream outside into Brooklyn Bridge Park. His realtor pointed to a spot where the rapper Nas had performed in 2016, and then he showed Sharpe ESPN’s South Street Seaport studios across the water. Sharpe took a big spoonful of ice cream and then leaned on the rail and looked out at the water. “Mm-mm!” he said. “I think I’m going to like living here.” More