To the dismay of the Golden State Warriors, the NBA has denied Andrew Wiggins a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s a gut-punch, but predictable. This was supposed to be the season the Warriors rebooted their championship swag as their full complement of players were to be rostered and on the court. But Wiggins missing all 41 home games is something the NBA cares little-to-nothing about.
While team personnel, trainers, and Chase Center employees are required to be vaccinated, NBA players are not. However, the city of San Francisco has a mandate for facilities that host large groups of people. The unvaccinated are not allowed in the building. Being in the NBA doesn’t provide protection. Unvaccinated, Wiggins is forced to miss all home games in the regular season and however many home games the Warriors play in the post-season.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Literally. For the first time in his pro career, Andrew Wiggins lacks the leverage to be able to bypass a rule based on his financial influence. He tried a Hail Mary and the NBA wasn’t buying what he was selling. Training camp starts next week, and we’ll see if Wiggins is as principled as he wants everyone to believe. Is he willing to forfeit 41 home games and the paychecks which for Wiggins is $385,000 per game or $15 million give or take? Is he that principled?
In a different era, Muhammed Ali cited religious reasons for not fighting in the Vietnam War. He lost three years of his career and the income that came with that. He was considered a traitor and anti-American and no state would sanction his fights. The three years that Ali lost were prime earning years where he would have been at his athletic best. But Ali was a Muslim devoted to the Nation of Islam. It went against their teaching to fight a war of which they were not the beneficiary. The government wanted to send Ali to jail and Ali was willing to go [to jail for 5 years] if he had to. That’s how strong his belief was about the Vietnam War.
The question is how strong is Andrew Wiggins belief? Is he willing to give up half of his salary? Is he willing to wait out a possible Supreme Court ruling ala Ali and sacrifice money in the process? The Supreme Court has already ruled against Indiana University students who tried to fight a vaccine mandate. (Unvaccinated students and employees who refused vaccination have lost their student registration and jobs.)
Wiggins may have the ability to reduce how much he loses through arbitration but there are other issues at stake. His presence in the locker room, for one. Teammates respect individual desires until it affects them. Klay Thompson will be working himself back into game shape. Without Wiggins, he’ll be asked to do more and frankly, is that fair? For Wiggins to put his teammates in that kind of predicament. Wiggins will be making the Warriors worse by refusing to do something that 90% of the league has already committed to. (Kyrie Irving is anti-vax too so the Nets have the same issue as the Warriors though Irving hasn’t asked for an exemption as of yet.)
Rob Pelinka, the Lakers GM, has said the Lakers will be fully vaccinated by opening night. This includes Kent Bazemore who was stuck in his anti-vax position while with the Warriors and a teammate of Wiggins. Bazemore would have had to change his mind for Pelinka’s assurance to come true.
Will Wiggins change his mind?
If he doesn’t, the trade-Wiggins-now fan rant will start to trend again. But it’s not that easy. Although San Francisco and New York City are the only NBA cities with a vaccine mandate, Wiggins salary- he’s owed $67 million- isn’t easy to move so close to the season starting. Many might think Wiggins for Ben Simmons is the chess move but that doesn’t really work with how the Warriors play. Simmons stays in the paint and the Warriors move in and out of the paint.
The next move in this saga will have precedent-setting ripples in the anti-vax labor pond. For example, nearly 2,600 LAPD have cited a religious exemption in order to bypass the Covid-19 vaccination mandate of Los Angeles County employees. But citing religious and/or medical exemptions are a difficult burden to prove. There’s a difference between having religious beliefs and qualifying for a religious exemption. Most religious exemptions fail because the applicant isn’t aware of how to present their exemption so it sounds like an exemption and not a want.
Wiggins, if he takes the financial hit, will be heroic in the anti-vax movement. He will have to endure daily testing on practice and travel days, be limited on the plane and at meals and team transportation. He will be treated differently and it won’t take long for Wiggins to feel that difference. The Jim Crow-ing of him. He’s already a sensitive man. Will Wiggins be able to handle the double standard?
He has time, as limited as that may be. He won’t have to make a decision until mid-October when the San Francisco takes effect.