The Brooklyn Nets were the heavy betting favorites to win the 2022 NBA championship entering the season. It was easy to understand the preseason optimism: last time we saw the Nets, Kevin Durant was nearly carrying the team to a Game 7 victory over the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks despite playing most of the series without injured co-superstars James Harden and Kyrie Irving. The Nets’ big three was about to have its first full offseason together to get healthy and gel on the court. There wasn’t a team in basketball with more offensive firepower on-paper.
Unfortunately, the Nets were always scarier on-paper than they were on the floor. Brooklyn’s season is now over after getting eliminated in a four-game sweep to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. While no one would have believed the Nets would go out so sad last summer, the reality is that the writing has been on the wall for this version of Brooklyn for months.
How did the NBA’s preseason favorite go down in flames? It’s the end result of one of the strangest seasons we’ve seen in recent NBA history.
Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get the Covid vaccine was the start of the Nets’ downfall
The Nets’ championship hopes faced their first challenge back in August when New York City announced it would be the first American city to require at least one shot of the Covid vaccine for activities like indoor dining and going to the gym. That vaccine requirement extended to its two NBA teams, and there was only one player in the city who refused to comply: Kyrie Irving.
The Nets kept Irving away from the team through 2021 until they eventually flip-flopped and decided to let Irving play in road games. Irving was a road-only player for the Nets until late March when the city finally lifted the mandate for athletes and performers.
By the time Irving was finally allowed to be a full-time player, James Harden had forced his way out of town and the roster around Durant and Kyrie looked totally different. Irving’s refusal to the jab was the beginning of the end for Brooklyn. Somehow, a star player refusing to get a vaccine against…