Charles Barkley Says He's 'Proud of the Nets' for Benching Kyrie Irving

Charles Barkley Kyrie Irving NBA COVID-19 Vaccine
Charles Barkley said he was "proud of" the Brooklyn Nets for benching Kyrie Irving over his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Barkley is pictured during an event in Camden, New Jersey on September 13, 2019. Mitchell Leff/Getty

Former NBA star Charles Barkley has praised the Brooklyn Nets for suspending Kyrie Irving over his refusal to become vaccinated against COVID-19.

Barkley made the remarks during an NBA on TNT broadcast on Tuesday, the opening night of the NBA regular season. The Nets last week banned Irving from participating in all games and practices until he becomes vaccinated. Irving is ineligible for home games due to a New York City vaccine mandate but away games might have still been a possibility since the league does not have its own mandate. However, the Nets chose to fully suspend Irving.

NBC Commissioner Adam Silver urged Irving to get vaccinated "first and foremost for himself and his family" in an interview just before the Nets tipped off against the Milwaukee Bucks. Barkley made a similar argument a short time later, while taking exception to fellow commentator and former basketball player Kenny Smith asserting that he had "empathy" for Irving being "uncomfortable" about the vaccine because he did not know the "full ingredients."

"First of all, you don't get the vaccine for yourself, you get it for other people," said Barkley. "I got vaccinated. I can't wait to get the booster. You don't get vaccinated just for yourself. Like Adam said, you get vaccinated for your family first, you get vaccinated for your teammates second... That's what bothers me about this whole thing. I think everybody should get vaccinated."

"I really am proud of the Nets for putting their foot down," he added. "For saying 'no, we're not going to deal with this half on, half off.' The only thing that bugs me [is] he's still going to make $17 million sitting at home."

Barkley also bristled at those making comparisons between Irving and boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who was banned from boxing for over three years after refusing to be drafted into the military due to ethical objections to the Vietnam War. Barkley noted that Ali went without income for years despite having been "the highest paid athlete in the world," while Irving could still be paid roughly half of his over $34 million salary without playing one season.

Fellow former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal also appeared during the broadcast and appeared to agree with Barkley's condemnation of Irving's anti-vaccination stance. O'Neal said he tries "not to tell a person what they should and shouldn't do" but that success in the NBA requires "sacrifice" and the vaccine "ain't about you, it's about [helping] everybody else."

Barkley also briefly paid tribute to his former Phoenix Suns teammate Cedric Ceballos, who returned home last month after spending weeks in a hospital intensive care unit due to a serious COVID-19 infection.

Newsweek reached out to the Brooklyn Nets for comment.