Hours after all-star Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving opened up about his decision to remain unvaccinated and miss games and practices until he fulfilled New York City’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, he found support from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Greene (R-Ga.), who has promoted coronavirus misinformation and was temporarily suspended from Twitter after she falsely said that vaccines are failing, focused on what’s become an anti-mandate talking point for conservatives in the culture war that is Irving’s vaccination status ahead of the NBA season. To do so, Greene referred to a different public health crisis involving another dazzling point guard from decades earlier.
“The fascist NBA won’t let Kyrie Irving play for refusing a vaccine,” Greene tweeted Thursday. “But yet they still let Magic Johnson play with HIV.”
The comparison involving Johnson, who shocked the world in November 1991 when he announced that he had contracted HIV, has picked up steam among conservative politicians and pundits in recent days as the story surrounding Irving has garnered national attention.
Lavern Spencer, a Republican congressional candidate in Florida, tweeted that Johnson had “FULL-BLOWN HIV” when he was allowed to play.
Clay Travis, founder of the conservative sports site OutKick, echoed the sentiment. “This is all madness,” he tweeted.
But critics and former NBA players and coaches say that the comparison trumpeted by conservatives is rooted in misinformation and myths. They say it’s an effort to co-opt arguments made in the Black community during the pandemic as their own — using athletes from a league that they have taken aim at for years. Donald Trump Jr. said this week that Irving has “sacrificed” more than former NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, a longtime target of his father. Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Thursday night touted recent vaccine comments from Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, the same person she once told to “shut up and dribble” whenever he talked about politics.