In This Episode
Tariq Panja of the New York Times joins Takeline to talk about how war in Ukraine is affecting British football economy, most notably Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s stake in Chelsea. And Kristian Winfield of The New York Daily News helps break down how New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ recent comments on vaccine mandates in the city might affect Kyrie Irving’s availability.
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Jason Concepcion: Welcome to take line, I am Jason Concepcion, it’s wonderful to be back with you. I wish it was under circumstances in which there were less things happening in the world. Currently, we are on day, ugh, I want to say six of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The COVID rules continue to be in flux in New York City. And, you know, the leader of a nuclear nation is very casually threatening a nuclear war. It’s very, very chill here today. But we have a great show. No Rene today. But today we’re going to talk to Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News about New York City Mayor Eric Adams recent comments on changes to the vaccine mandates in the city and how that might affect one person out of the eight million people that live and work in New York City. Kyrie Irving, the point guard for the Brooklyn Nets. Tariq Panja, of the New York Times, an author and a great reporter who studies the intersection of economics and football that is the European definition of the word football, meaning soccer will join us to talk about how the conflict in Ukraine is causing chaos, not just in the economy, but also in the sports economy. In particular, the plight of Roman Abramovich, who has attempted to hide Chelsea Football Club like in the garage so Boris Johnson can’t steal it. Fun show for you today. Let’s get started. Joining us now is Tariq Panja, a sports reporter with the New York Times and author of Football Secret Trade How the Players Transfer Market Was Infiltrated. He’s here to help us try to make sense of some of the fallout of the conflict in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia on the sports world in particular the football slash soccer world. Roman Abramovich over the weekend gave stewardship of his football club, Chelsea Football Club, to its charitable arm, which is akin to like hiding like a hot hand gun in someone’s garage, I think. But we’re here, but hopefully Tariq can help us make sense of all this. Tariq, thank you for joining us.
Tariq Panja: Good to be with you.
Jason Concepcion: So Roman Abramovich, the Russian Israeli oligarch billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, a gas aluminum and oil magnate, has handed off ownership stewardship little fuzzy on what the what the actual meaning of this is to Chelsea’s charitable arm. What does this mean?
Tariq Panja: Practically today, it means absolutely nothing. This this this has been a bit of a theater. Roman Abramovich, of course, is one of the Russian oligarchs you mentioned linked over the years to President Vladimir Putin and has been in Great Britain for since at least 2003 2004. So almost two decades. And finally, the UK government, as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is talking about issuing sanctions against Mr. Abramovich, his biggest property in the UK is is $1.5 billion pound investment in Chelsea Football Club. Now, with all that being said, what are you going to do? Oh, hang on. I’ve got an idea. I’m a distraction. Yeah, we’ve got a charitable arm here. Yeah, I’m just going to ask them to to to look after it. It’s like getting, you know, going on holiday or going on vacation and saying “Hey, I’m out of town for a few weeks. Could someone water the plants? That’s what it seems like. And also, he’s still the owner, right? He’s still not selling it. His name is on the on the on the books now. None of this is also gone through yet. There is no guarantee that this charitable foundation can legally manage Chelsea Football Club Under Under UK charity law. So there’s a lot to unravel here.
Jason Concepcion: Let’s zoom out to 30000 feet for a second. You mentioned Roman’s ownership of Chelsea Football Club dating back to 2003. He was really not necessarily the first, but perhaps the most well known Russian oligarch to come to London, make a life there and start spending a lot of money in the city. The the influence of Russian money in London has been a topic of much criticism and conversation in the city and in the UK for a number of years. Is there a sense that he could actually lose the club? Certainly. Some of the statements coming out of the UK have been quite aggressive in terms of the assets that they’re going to go after. We’ll see if that happens. But this is the kind of thing that certain critics of London’s relationship with Russian money have been asking for for a while.
Tariq Panja: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t just call it Russians Russian money. The London is just a city that is very permissive, right? If you’ve got money, we don’t care where it comes from. Please come here. Please spend your money. And we have all these kind of service financial service companies, be they asset managers, lawyers, corporate public relations. We’ll all polish your image as well. You know, a lot of these Russian guys, not just Mr. Abramovich and not just Russian people as well. They’ve also got into philanthropy, funding the arts, funding colleges a little bit like the Sackler family in the U.S..
Jason Concepcion: Exactly. Exactly the same. Yeah.
Tariq Panja: So so what we’re talking about you saying, you know, with is, is there anxiety? I would say there is anxiety. If you’re a Chelsea supporter, you’ve never had it as good in the history of that club until Mr. Abramovich came there. They’ve won absolutely everything. They have won two Champions League titles. That’s the best team in Europe. Never happened before for Chelsea. They won multiple English championships. They’ve had some of the best soccer players on the planet playing on the field, and that’s all been funded through this guy’s largesse. Now, why does he want to do that? That’s that’s the other question. He’s been here for almost two decades. He’s given one interview. And he’s like seen as a Mona Lisa figure in the stands. He to be fair to him. He was. He’s one of those owners, he’s not an absentee owner. He was someone who attended games a lot and I think there’s some credit.
Jason Concepcion: He looks like he lives and dies with every kick of the ball. You know, it’s telecasts of Chelsea Football Club over the years have it’s quite easy to see him. They often pan up to the owner’s box and you see him biting his fingernails looking like, he’s, you know he can’t. He can’t stand to see what’s happening. He’s so, he’s so tense about the sport.
Tariq Panja: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And so the thing is, the Abramovich tension dates back a little bit further. There was a quite even saying this is just so bizarre. In 2018, two Russian spies came to the English cathedral town of Salisbury and tried to poison a former KGB agent and made an absolute mess of that almost poisoned the entire town and disappeared.
Jason Concepcion: Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with a nerve agent.
Tariq Panja: That’s right. That’s right. And Dawn Sturgess, a local woman, ended up dying as a result of finding a discarded perfume bottle that had the nerve agent within it. So it was, you know, it’s a national scandal. Can you imagine just if something that happened in the United States? Right? You know, Russian agents coming in and essentially covering a town in lethal poison. You know, it’s it’s one for them, one for the movies. But ever since, Mr. Abramovich has been almost a persona non grata in the UK, so it dates back a little bit.
Jason Concepcion: I should add that that particular assassination attempt is on the heels of the successful poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in the UK and other over the years, I guess unexplained and or mysterious deaths of Russian millionaires, billionaires connected figures with that world. So all of that is the case. You mentioned the players of Chelsea and how they’ve had since Roman. Roman has taken over some of the best players in world football, and that is the case today. Is there any sense that Romelu Lukaku, Christian Pulisic etc are concerned about their pay packets? Like is is is Roman going to be able to fulfill his obligations financially as the owner of Chelsea Football Club in the in the days and weeks going forward? As this as this crisis continues?
Tariq Panja: So far, we haven’t seen any sign that he hasn’t or isn’t. You know, these players are still being paid. Chelsea this Sunday were in the League Cup final, the first of the big trophies being handed out. They lost in a penalty shootout there to Liverpool. Roman Abramovich in better days would normally be inside that stadium. Like I said, since 2018, he obviously wasn’t connected directly to any of that attack but because of his status as a as a significant Russian, he’s found it harder to do business in the UK and to enter the UK to make that clear. So what what the question is, what is what is the repercussion? At the moment there isn’t any. Should should his assets be frozen? That the big the big question for Chelsea isn’t about his current assets. He his his funding of Chelsea has been an owner cash injection in the form of loans, right? One point five billion pounds plus of loans. That’s a lot of money north of two billion dollars. He could ask for that back. Should he ask for that back? That club is in serious trouble. Now, that is what if I was a Chelsea fan, I would be wondering about. But the thing with these big soccer teams in the UK, they are massive community assets. They are a kind of cathedral to thousands of supporters. Now the government, I’m sure, would be wary of doing something that imperils the status of that football club. They might want him to go, and he may yet go somehow. But if I can’t imagine right now the chaos that would ensue if someone arrived and put a lock and chain around Stamford Bridge and said, You can’t go in and you can’t play football anymore because you can’t pay your debts.
Jason Concepcion: FIFA announced recently that all Russian teams, whether national representative teams, club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions. This means essentially Russia is kicked out of World Cup qualifiers. Spartak Moscow is the only Russian team currently involved in European competition in the Europa League. UEFA confirmed Monday that Spartak Moscow will be kicked out of the Europa league match up with Germany’s RB Leipzig and Leipzig will go on through to the round of 16 in that competition. This is truly a huge step for FIFA. I mean, you know, you’ve really you’ve really done something when FIFA of all groups decides, OK, you’ve gone too far. We’re going to kick you. We’re going to kick you out of competitions. This is huge. What’s been the fallout from from these decisions that are quite new, obviously.
Tariq Panja: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting you mentioned you mentioned FIFA, but again, FIFA can’t seem to do anything right because this comes a day after they already sanctioned Russia with penalties that included playing in neutral territory, playing under, you know, a different name, playing without its flag and without its anthems or fans. That was the day before and immediately Poland, which was due to play Russia in the World Cup qualifier in Moscow. So we don’t care where we are playing this so-called team, whatever you want to call them, we’re not going to play that. Sweden and the Czech Republic, two teams that would have met the winner for that place in Qatar followed suit very quickly. And then a bunch of other teams also said by the by the time, you know, 12 hours later, I think there was at least a dozen, including the United States, England, Ireland, Iceland, saying We’re never going to play Russia under these circumstances. This is a country that’s invaded a fellow European country we’re not going to play. And then what did change? What changed was the International Olympic Committee, another organization which has been supine in the face of Russian cheating, doping over the years, decided it’s had enough. Now, you know, parentheses, this is after the Beijing Olympics, not before. Ugh there’s nothing at stake for the IOC, one could argue. Said basically recommended that Russia and Belarus, a neighboring country which has been a staging ground for Russian soldiers, should essentially be kicked out of global sport. That set the framework for what FIFA then did. Now let me ask, why did FIFA not do this one? Why did they get it wrong the day before? It’s got no halo effect. It’s like, oh, well done, you finally done the right thing, having screwed up 24 hours ago.
Jason Concepcion: I would add to that also with sanctions in place and with no flies in place for for Russian commercial travel, it’s it’s unclear that Russian athletes would be able to travel outside of the country even. So, it’s not clear to me that like, you know, I guess credit to FIFA for taking this step. It’s unclear that the game could even be played because I don’t think the athletes would be able to leave the country.
Tariq Panja: Yeah, that’s that’s a really good point. And that’s something I was talking to people at UEFA about this. European soccer governing body related to Spartak Moscow Europa League, saying they want you to play Leipzig in the Europa League. Leipzig are based in Germany. You can’t fly currently from Russia to to to Germany. So, so that game was completely in peril its almost impractical, as as you said. So this decision almost had to happen. However, there is a wrinkle. There is a wrinkle. There always is with these things. Don’t forget. Remember we we wrote the headline. I remember this four years ago saying “Russia is banned from the Olympics.” Right, right. I remember.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, yeah, I remember. I do remember that, you know, as a slight caveat, there was no active invasion of a sovereign country, a hot invasion. You know, obviously, the Crimea is a separate thing, but there was no active invasion going on. So maybe, you know, like we give them, we give them a pass for it. But yes, you’re absolutely right. There is a there is a well-reported story about the extensive Russian doping program that got them as far as we know, ejected from Olympic competition forthwith and for the foreseeable future and that obviously did not hold.
Tariq Panja: No, because the thing with sport is there’s always the last court of instance, which is this Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland and Russia have done very well, I think, over the years to get things either watered down or overturned. We had 200 plus athletes in Beijing, for example, an Olympics where Russia were banned. They were there without their flag and without their name and everything else, but Russia was up there in the medals table. Now Russia, already within hours of the FIFA decision, have said, “We’re going to look at our legal challenges here and we’re probably going to end up in this court now.” Could this be? Again, I’ve been doing this a really long time and there is a cynical part to all of this. There is nothing in the rulebook that says you if you’ve invaded a neighbor, we can kick you out. There just isn’t, you know, you can look through this stuff, you can comb through it. I was talking to someone at the International Paralympic Committee and they’re worried about this because on Wednesday, they’re going to decide whether they’re going to throw Russia out or not as well. Right now, if the Court of Arbitration say, sorry guys, Russia are right, there’s nothing in your rules that can punish them in this way, and they’re going to say, “Oh, well, hi guys. Hi media, hi world. Hi everyone, who’s so appalled by this? We tried our best right and we can’t do it.” Now, I still, honestly, as you said, there is an invasion going on in Europe, which is bloody and just horrific. I still cannot believe that Russia will be allowed to play. However, I still see that there is they’re going to try their luck and it’ll be interesting if we have this call again in a couple of months.
Jason Concepcion: Well, I think the thing that that leads you to be cynical is the same thing that leads me to be cynical, which is that we’ve seen and it’s been demonstrated certainly over the last 20 years in European football and indeed sport globally that money talks and it talks the loudest. I wonder if you could talk for a moment about, from a layman’s perspective, someone who’s just like a fan of the sport. It really felt like the arrival of Roman Abramovich on the scene changed the economics of football fundamentally. All of a sudden it was a arms race, a money arms race in a in a different way than it was before, when it used to be about, you know, finding the right player in some misbegotten league somewhere else. And then all of a sudden, you know, that changes the trajectory of your club. Now it was about, can I spend the most money and assemble players, the likes, you know, the pay packet rates of which have never been seen all together before. That changed football. How will this if this these bans do indeed hold, do you think it will we’ll see another shift in football to a more deflated economic picture?
Tariq Panja: Yeah, it’s interesting. Roman Abramovich certainly upended the way soccer economics work because there wasn’t anyone as wealthy as as an oligarch coming in buying the club with that wealth. I’ll give you an example, I suppose. David Dein was the vice chairman of Arsenal at the time
Jason Concepcion: I miss him. I miss him every day as an Arsenal fan
Tariq Panja: And and Arsenal were in relatively good shape there they were competing for the title with Max Snider that Austin Venga there. And we’re about to move into a new stadium, the Emirates Stadium from Highbury, a modern stadium and well set to compete at the highest level with Manchester United for the foreseeable future. And then Roman Abramovich comes and David Dein said this. We suddenly have a man who’s arrived. He’s parked his tank on our lawn and he’s firing £50 notes out of it. And that David Dein is a very good orator. He’s really good speaker, and that imagery is exactly how it was. So here’s this guy. And he completely inflated the market for talent, how much you pay for for a trade, transfer fees and also the salaries. And as for Arsenal, I don’t think they ever recovered. They didn’t get to where a team of that standing. There wasn’t. Chelsea was not considered a rival at that point. Now what’s happened since is not just Roman Abramovich, but we have now had Nation-States. I think he ushered in the era of we have the brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates at Manchester City. And that’s another layer. That’s a that’s a layer that even Abramovich can’t, for all his wealth, compete with. You have one of the world’s richest countries using a Manchester based soccer team as a signpost for whatever it wants to do. And it has spent an enormous amount of money. Build a team through the genius, I suppose, of Pep Guardiola, but given him every single resource that is available to football and then across the water in Paris, you have the state of Qatar having a kind of a Hollywood operation there, a more superficial approach to club building, buying the best players Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Messi, etc. And then we have just this year or last year, Newcastle United being bought by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Now that is the big daddy of all of the Gulf. So yeah, we’re going to see we’re going to see, you know, some, some serious moves there. There have been efforts by the Premier League to introduce governance regulations, but let’s see if that holds. Abramovich going would be a huge sign and a blow for perhaps Chelsea supporters. But in terms of bringing a more rational approach to the game, I’m not so sure that’s the reason why there would be one.
Jason Concepcion: And finally, you wrote a story a couple of days ago that was published in The New York Times about pro players mostly from Brazil, but other countries as well, who are, like millions of others, stuck in Ukraine and attempting to flee. Tell me about that story and how it came about.
Tariq Panja: Yeah, so Brazilians in particular, I used to live in Brazil, so I still have connections over there, and I follow social media feeds and that the Brazilians go everywhere in the world to play football. I mean, the smallest country, the poorest country, if it’s got a football there, you might find a Brazilian, you know, from the top to the bottom. And Ukraine pays good salaries, particularly Shakhtar Donetsk, the team from from Donetsk that was forced to play in Kiev because of an earlier kind of Russian backed secession movement over there. And Dynamo Kiev, the kind of a historic big team of Ukraine. They also have South American players and Brazilians. So war breaks out and they’re there like everyone else, and they have family members with them, babies. There were three newborns in this group. Wives, girlfriends and elderly relatives as well. So they were I was talking to a fellow called Junior Moraes, who was at Shakhtar Donetsk, and he was with 50 or 60 other people at the hotel in Kiev in this conference room, just just trying to escape. And they they were panicking. Bombs were going off. They could hear these, you know, military jets flying overhead. The building shook a couple of times, he was telling me, and they required help from UEFA, European soccer’s governing body FIFPro, the players union and the and the Ukrainian Football Association. To tell you one know how rich you are. Moments like this is such an equalizer. They joined that mass of humanity, trying to get to the train station and trying to get out west out of out of Ukraine. They were the lucky ones. I’ve seen stories of of of other players who aren’t as well connected as maybe they are huddled around fires, freezing like like the last vast majority of the population. Yeah. One thing, one thing that’s really struck me and it’s really sad and sad story among a lot of sad stories is the difficulty black and brown people are having leaving the Ukraine and being accepted by those bordering countries. And you know, it’s it’s horrific they’re being thrown off trains are not being allowed to cross borders.
Jason Concepcion: The government of Nigeria, for one, has had to release a statement trying to smooth that situation and let its citizens that are there know that they should be allowed to pass through. We’ve seen similar situations with Indian nationals. It’s bad and it’s there is a it’s a very bad situation. It’s unclear what reason those people are being held up.
Tariq Panja: I think it’s pretty clear why those people to be held up.
Jason Concepcion: I think it’s clear as well, but it’s unclear to me what reason they think the border guards think that they have for doing that. It’s very clear to me, obviously, like it’s very clear that, hey, here’s some brown people. They don’t look like Ukrainians. Hold on. You can’t leave yet. Let’s see some space for the Ukrainians here trying to flee. But yes, it’s pretty cut and dried, and it’s a horrible situation that I hope I hope is being cleared up somehow.
Tariq Panja: Yeah. And I think I mentioned it because obviously a lot of these footballers would have that appearance and they aren’t going to be the millionaires of famous people who play for Donetsk in Kiev, there are second division teams in Ukraine. And they are just a random looking black and brown person who just happens to play football and they are suffering out there. Let’s hope something is sorted out for them as quickly as possible.
Jason Concepcion: Tariq Panja, his book Football Secret Trade How the Player Transfer Market was Infiltrated is available wherever you get your books. Find his writing in The New York Times and elsewhere. Tariq, thank you so much for joining us.
Tariq Panja: Thanks for having me.
Jason Concepcion: [AD]
Jason Concepcion: So as you’re surely aware, Kyrie Irving, star point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, has not been able to play home games for the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, and that is because of New York City’s vaccine mandates that cover the citizens of New York City, as well as employees of the city and other private businesses and public spaces to help us unpack the some would call it “Kyrie loophole” and the intersection of sports and local politics and public health is Kristian Winfield, NBA reporter for the New York Daily News, who covers the Knicks and Nets and has been covering all the developments, including recent comments by New York City Mayor Eric Adams that popped off just this morning. hristian, thank you so much for joining Takeline.
Kristian Winfield: Man. When I tell you, I wish I paid a little more attention in political science class in college now because I’m I’m over on the phone with City Hall people and they don’t want to talk to me. It’s a headache man, but that’s that’s where we are with this team.
Jason Concepcion: That’s where we are. OK. So Eric, Eric Adams said this morning after in recent days seeming to signal that he’d like to see Kyrie on the court. He said quote, It would send the wrong message to just have an exception for one player when we’re telling countless numbers of New York City employees, if you don’t follow the rules, you won’t be employed. Now it seems like the vaccine and mask mandates are going to change next week, but where are we right now in terms of this situation with regards to Kyrie Irving?
Kristian Winfield: So Eric Adams is going to make an official decision on March 4th as to when he’s going to repeal the key to New York City vaccine mandate. But there’s a second private sector vaccine mandate that will allow Kyrie to walk into Barclays Center and watch his teammates. He just won’t be able to step out there and play basketball, and that’s kind of one of the sticking points for the team because they’re they’re confused as to why Kyrie can’t play, but opposing players with unvaccinated who are not vaccinated can come in and play. And we’ve seen Adam Silver come in and speak about this. But when you listen to the mayor and you hear his comments, he’s saying, “Hey,” as you mentioned, “we don’t want to send the wrong message because we’re asking health care workers to get vaccinated. We’re asking businesses and educators, all these people have to get vaccinated. Why do we want to bend the rules in favor of just one player?” And that’s where we are.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, this annoys me as well. Charles Barkley, also before the All-Star Game on TNT, was talking about how this this loophole that makes it so Kyrie can’t play home games, but unvaccinated players coming from Indianapolis or Charlotte could come in and play. Adam Silver said on February 16th, “This law in New York, the oddity of it to me is that it only applies to home players.” Now, here is the thing that annoys me, Kristian, and now I’m just going to vent at you, even though I had you on. Charles is one thing. I feel like the commissioner could have at least laid out why it is the rule, and the law appeared in the form that it took. New York City is most in its rights to pass laws that pertain to the citizens of New York City. Right? It can’t pass a law for somebody who lives in Washington state unless it wants to cut itself off of or unduly complicate movement of people from Washington state in new York City. Right its just easier to pass the law for the people in New York state. We get it. Now, one of the really weird things about it is now all of a sudden, Kyrie can’t play home games when unvaccinated players from other places can come in and do it. Is that stupid? I guess it seems a little silly, but I would like to remind everybody that these rules were passed in the middle of a pandemic that was taking thousands of lives a day. We’re up towards a million deaths because of this. And so it was like the house is on fire. It’s like if I just dump water on all my belongings, that seems really dumb unless the detail that’s missing is the house was on fire. Now, all of a sudden, that makes sense. It just feels like now I’ve just vented, and I don’t know that I have a question, but I guess I would ask when the mayor says about sending the message, Why is it that Kyrie is being used, I guess, as the kind of leverage point in a rule that affects thousands, if not millions of other people? It just feels a little bit wrong to me. Is it silly that he can’t play? I think it’s a little bit silly, but are we not doing the most good with this particular rule, despite the fact that it’s imperfect in the way that it interacts with one Kyrie Irving, multimillionaire NBA basketball player?
Kristian Winfield: Absolutely. You know, I think it’s been pretty consistent from the city saying, “Hey, we want everyone to be vaccinated,” right? And Kyrie is the only pro basketball player in New York City on either the Nets or the Knicks, who has just decided not to get the shot. And this is what happens when you decide to not do that. Now there is an exemption in this entire situation and one of these mandates that says people who don’t live in New York City, Kyrie lives in New Jersey. Right? People. Do not live in New York City, who are pro athletes, don’t have to follow the key to New York City mandate if it is repealed. The mandate is getting repealed, right. So there’s another level of confusion here that I’ve spoken with with team officials where they don’t think the city understands their own writing, right? And that’s kind of where we’re at right now. They’re trying to everyone’s trying to make sense of things that are just a lot complicated. So that’s kind of it’s a it’s a waiting game.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah. Another thing that I think is confusing about this. And again, I have some bit of empathy for city and state officials who tried to pass laws to serve public health in the middle of an emergency.
Kristian Winfield: Sure.
Jason Concepcion: There is the other part of this, which is that the law at one point it seemed like it would keep Kyrie from being able to go to practice.
Kristian Winfield: Right.
Jason Concepcion: Saying that Brooklyn Nets practice facility. But then because that was deemed a private business,
Kristian Winfield: Yeah.
Jason Concepcion: He is able to go there.
Kristian Winfield: Yeah.
Jason Concepcion: Why does that not apply then to the Barclays Center?
Kristian Winfield: That is an incredible question. I’m not sure. **Jason laughing** I would assume it’s because, you know, practice is private and at Barclays Center you’ve got tens of thousands of attendees,.
Jason Concepcion: Right.
Kristian Winfield: You’ve got fans who want to interact with these folks, but at the same time, no one none of these fans are running onto the court, right? You know, like the court and in essence, is kind of like the average fan unless he’s going to jump out like a football game and go streaking across the court. That’s not going to happen. So that’s kind of another area where a lot of people are confused as to what the actual spirit of this rule is. Because if Kyrie is the only unvaccinated player on the floor and he’s testing daily, he’s not he’s not positive. And no one else is at risk because he’s in this confined area and not interacting with fans. Then then in a way, it’s like, What are we actually doing here?
Jason Concepcion: Right. How much of this this confusion is down to a change of leadership? Essentially, you know, Mayor de Blasio expended a lot of effort and political capital in various fights with city unions in order to get a lot of these rules put in place. And now he is off the scene, and now Eric Adams comes in is something of an unknown quantity in the way he’s going to run the city. How much of it comes down to that? The Eric’s just like the new guy on the scene, and we don’t know what he’s going to do.
Kristian Winfield: Let me read a direct quote from Eric Adams this morning. He says “I don’t know who thought about putting such a rule in place that unvaccinated players on away teams could come in here and guys from New York can’t.” So that goes to show you right there that he kind of inherited a lot of lot of what he’s in right now. And then he follows up and says, “Hey, I have to follow the rules. If I don’t, I’m going to open a door that’s sending the wrong message to everyday employees.” So in a way, his hands are kind of tied. It’s like, hey, this, this is kind of what I’ve inherited. But if there is this wording that says since Kyrie is from is living in New Jersey and he doesn’t and these are these mandates don’t apply to people who are out of town. I think that’s the route that the Nets are going to try to explore next is whatever kind of wiggle room they can find in that wording.
Jason Concepcion: With your conversations with City Hall and other city officials, do you do you sense that there is going to be some empathy towards that position?
Kristian Winfield: No, no, no, no. I think that they want to, you know? And Eric Adams said it earlier this morning, he’s kind of hard lined on this stance. You know, it’s they don’t want to put out the message that you don’t have to get vaccinated and you can loophole your way around the system because there are thousands, tens of thousands of workers who don’t have the platform and the stature and the money and the power that Kyrie Irving has, they don’t want to cede to him and set a bad example for those guys. I’ve got family members who didn’t want to get vaccinated and then had to because they would have lost their jobs otherwise. Right. So what kind of message are you sending to those guys by letting Kyrie play? So I’m not sure that we see City Hall kind of bow down to one player. I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Jason Concepcion: Nets owner, Joe Tsai, was at one point in time pretty hard line about the issue of Kyrie participating while being unvaccinated. He was very strongly against it. And that changed. What changed for the Nets that made them really soften their stance towards Kyrie participating in games?
Kristian Winfield: Well, I’d say half the roster ended up testing positive for COVID. **Jason laughing** And at that point, you know, the Nets said, “Hey, it’s a matter of continuity. We don’t want to have somebody coming in and out of the lineup.” But when you’ve got 10 some odd players going into into the health and safety protocols, well, what exactly is continuity, right? And at that moment, it’s kind of like, OK, well, you know, my mind immediately goes, OK, you’re going to have this unvaccinated guy come back in the middle of the biggest outbreak of COVID in the NBA. That’s kind of negligent in a way, but at the end of the day, enough Kyrie wants to go out there and play, so be it. And then on top of that, you had players, you had Kevin, you had James, you had different players lobbying for the team to actually let Kyrie play. So those two things, those two factors players going into their safety protocols and then star players lobbying for Kyrie ended up getting back on the floor.
Jason Concepcion: So at at the moment, the the nets are sitting in eighth would have to take part in the play in. Yeah, what’s they’ve obviously, added Ben Simmons. He’s not going to be available for a while. It’s the last last report was he’s experienced some, some back tightness as he works back into conditioning, obviously has not played all season.
Kristian Winfield: Right.
Jason Concepcion: What’s the feeling around the team? I would imagine there’s there’s just so much uncertainty. But you know, what’s the feeling around the club about the weeks ahead as they head into the postseason?
Kristian Winfield: Well, the Nets just got a huge victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, really beat them on their own home floor. You remember what happened last year the Bucks sent them home in the playoffs and, you know, shootaround this morning as Bruce Brown “hey, does this show you or does this give you more confidence in what you guys might be able to do when you have all your pieces together?” And he goes, “Yeah, I think we’re going to be scary, and that’s exactly why.” And when you consider no Kevin Durant, Kevin Durant, I think is going to come back for that Miami game after these two Toronto games coming up. So that’s Thursday. Eventually, you’re going to welcome Ben Simmons, and it might not be before the Philly game. I know fans are going to say he’s ducking that game, but back soreness, conditioning, whatever you want to call it, he might not play in that game. And now it looks like Joe Harris is ramping up that he might not have to get that second surgery. And if you add all that up, combine with Andre Drummond, combined with Seth Curry adding, Goran Dragic, you’ve got a very complete team led by, I mean, Kevin Durant. When he’s healthy, I don’t know where you have him. He’s at least one of the top two players in this NBA. This team is confident and I think they should be. So it’s a it’s a long road. You’ve got a short schedule to put it together, but they’re confident that they can do it.
Jason Concepcion: My conspiracy theory, which the listeners of Takeline have heard me spout before, is that the Nets obviously were not incentivized to have home court.
Kristian Winfield: Exactly.
Jason Concepcion: And that adds, to a certain extent, are comfortable being down here in the lower echelons of the bracket going forward. I think that that’s probably the case, would you not say?
Kristian Winfield: Yeah, you know, fans tried to kill me earlier when I said they should intentionally tank so they don’t have home court advantage. But here’s where it gets tricky. If you end up in that Play-In Tournament game and you lose that first game, if you’re eighth seat and you lose that seven eight game, now you’ve got home court advantage against the nine 10, right? And if they have, you’re playing against Trae Young in that second game and you don’t have Kyrie, that could go either way. So I don’t know. I think the Nets want to get out of the out of that play in, but they’re just too far behind the Celtics, I think, to make it happen.
Jason Concepcion: What does your gut tell you? Eastern Conference finals is a matchup between who?
Kristian Winfield: Oh, the Nets and the Sixers. I think we’re going to see that. I think that I think the basketball gods are just waiting for that moment. And you just look at the way James Harden, Joel Embiid pair together.
Jason Concepcion: Oh it was scary.
Kristian Winfield: I mean, yeah, that’s that’s bad.
Jason Concepcion: It was really scary.
Kristian Winfield: And then if you look at, to be honest, I think Andre Drummond and it’s crazy to say he fixes so many of this team’s issues. When you look at the rebound in the paint presents just the lob threat. You know, Seth Curry with no with no Joe Harris, he fixes that. And to be honest, Kevin Durant. I watched Kevin Durant go on the floor with four rookies and beat the Philadelphia 76ers. So, I mean, he gives you a chance to win any time. So I’m looking forward to that matchup. And on top of that, if the Nets do finished seventh or eighth, they’re going to end up drawing either the Heat or the Bulls and maybe the Bucks if they win enough games. I think we’re going to see Sixers and Nets in the Eastern Conference finals. I think the basketball gods won’t have it any other way.
Jason Concepcion: He’s Kristian Winfield. You can find his Knicks and Nets coverage at the New York Daily News. Kristian, thank you so much for joining Takeline.
Kristian Winfield: Thanks for having me, man. Anytime.
Jason Concepcion: [AD].
Jason Concepcion: That’s it for us. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and do not forget to subscribe to Takeline Show on YouTube for exclusive video clips from this episode, plus my digital series All Caps NBA, which comes out every Friday. Check it out, folks. See you next time. Lets go! Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Ryan Wallerson and Zuri Irvin, our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard engineering, editing and sound design by the Great Sarah Debalaska and the folks at Chapter four, and our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez. Mia Kellman is on the Zoom for vibes, and the vibes are fantastic all the time.