The story of Kyrie Irving‘s 2021-22 NBA season has been one of the most unique in recent memory.
The Brooklyn Nets’ star point guard played in just 29 of the team’s 82 regular-season games — the third straight year he’s missed significant time since joining the Nets three years ago — but it wasn’t injuries keeping Irving sidelined. It was public policy. Because Irving chose not to get vaccinated from the COVID-19 virus, he was not allowed to play in Brooklyn’s home games due to New York City’s health and safety protocols.
For the first three months of the season, the Nets kept Irving out of road games as well, either worried that Irving’s in-and-out presence in the lineup would hurt the team’s rhythm and chemistry if he was only playing road games; or trying to strong-arm him into getting vaccinated. Perhaps both. In early January, however, with the team struggling, the Nets relented and allowed Irving to play in road games. Then, in late March, the city relaxed its COVID rules, paving the way for Irving to return to the court full-time.
Of course, that happened just in time for the NBA playoffs, where Irving and superstar forward Kevin Durant have a chance to lead the Nets to the franchise’s first-ever NBA championship. Brooklyn begins its playoff run this weekend as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference facing the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics, one of Irving’s former teams.
Another significant yet less-publicized part of Irving’s story this season is that the 30-year-old Muslim revert is playing some of the best basketball of his career while he’s fasting for Ramadan.
The Islamic holy month began April 1, and in the five remaining regular-season games Irving played since then, he averaged 30.0 points on 45.2 percent shooting from the field and 41.8 percent from 3-point range, along with 5.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
In the Nets’ play-in tournament game victory to secure the seventh seed, Irving put up 34 points and 12 assists against the Cleveland Cavaliers, another of his former teams.
Irving is not the only Muslim player gearing up for the NBA playoffs. Here are three others that we know of:
Omer Yurtseven, C, Miami Heat: The 7-footer from Turkey made his NBA debut this season after going undrafted out of Georgetown in 2020 and playing for Oklahoma City’s G League affiliate last season. He’s since made his way onto Miami’s main roster, where he’s come off the bench to contribute 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game to the East’s No. 1 seed.
Gorgui Dieng, C, Atlanta Hawks: The 32-year-old veteran from Senegal hasn’t been part of Atlanta’s regular rotation, playing just over eight minutes per game in his 44 appearances. But depending on matchups in the playoffs, Dieng’s defensive acumen — he was once Big East Defensive Player of the Year at Louisville — could prove helpful. After getting through the play-in tournament, the Hawks are the No. 8 seed in the East and will open against the Heat.
Off the court, Dieng is a winner of the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. His foundation provides medical equipment, supplies and financial aid to improve healthcare in Senegal.
Jaylen Brown, SF, Boston Celtics: The 25-year-old high flyer was an All-Star last season, and he’s been just as good this season despite not getting an official All-Star nod. Brown averaged 23.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists for Boston, who went on a tear late in the regular season to earn the No. 2 seed in the East.