It’s been half a year since Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins — and his then teammate Kent Bazemore — publicly stated that he had not been vaccinated, had no plans to get vaccinated, and didn’t envision getting vaccinated unless “forced” to.
It was a frustrating sentiment for those invested in science or public health, but it seemed mostly inconsequential. A popular figure publicly espousing an anti-vaccination stance is certainly not a good thing, but not a new thing, either. And it didn’t really seem to impact the Warriors.
And then we all realized that wait ... maybe it did impact the Warriors. San Francisco (along with New York City) announced a law requiring hosts of large indoor events to be vaccinated, meaning that any unvaccinated Warriors players or staff would be unable to play in home games at Chase Center, or attend team workouts and practices when at home.
All this time I assumed Wiggins had gotten vaccinated. In the six months since his statement, public sentiment for the vaccine had grown positively, countless more studies were released, and the vaccine was fully approved by the FDA. If that hadn’t changed Wiggins’ mind, I assumed that the threat of sacrificing half of his salary would fall into the category of being “forced.”
But apparently not. On Wednesday, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Wiggins remained unvaccinated, despite Warriors officials putting him in touch with a local doctor to discuss the safety and importance. And now the Warriors face losing their starting forward for half of their games, while Wiggins faces losing 41 game checks worth roughly $380,000 each.
We’re only just finding out about this now, when Wiggins (barring a medical or religious exemption) has about a week to get a single-dose vaccine if he wants to not miss any workouts (the law goes into effect on Oct. 13), and about two weeks to get vaccinated if he wants to play in the team’s home opener on Oct. 21.
And I doubt the timing is a coincidence.
At this point, the Warriors have surely done everything they can do internally. They’ve informed Wiggins of the local regulations and what it means. They’ve explained how much his absence will hurt the team, and shown him the $15+ million figure he’ll be sacrificing. They’ve likely pled with him. They’ve led him to a doctor and asked him to listen.
And now it seems they’re turning to the fans.
All leaks happen for a reason. If information makes it from a person to a media outlet, it’s almost always because that person or team is trying to accomplish something.
Are the Warriors hoping that, by leaking information about Wiggins’ hesitance to get vaccinated, the fanbase will begin to apply public pressure?
Wiggins has been a fan favorite since joining Golden State. His quality defense, durability, and workmanlike attitude has won over much of the fanbase. Yet I don’t think the majority of them will stand by his side if he refuses to get vaccinated, and not only puts the public at risk but severely impacts the team.
Read the comments on my article yesterday on Wiggins’ stance, or look at the responses on Twitter to the news, and it’s clear that much of the fanbase is turning on Wiggins, upset that he would do something they deem equal parts foolish and harmful.
That might have been the plan for the Warriors. When all else fails, turn to the fans. Remember how hurt LeBron James and Kevin Durant were when they left the teams that drafted them for greener pastures, and saw the fan reactions? Being lesser in the eyes of the fanbases seemed genuinely gutting for both of them.
Maybe it will happen with Wiggins. Maybe seeing himself fall out of favor with a fanbase that has embraced him will be the motivation he needs to do his part in basic public health and safety.
It might be a long shot. It also might be the only shot the Warriors have left.