Kyrie Irving spoke to the media for the first time since his exile for being unvaccinated against COVID-19 and sounded both apprehensive and excited about getting back to work.
"Last night I could barely sleep," Irving told reporters Wednesday. "I'm like, man, I just don't want to come out and not be who I know I am as a player. ... heart racing and just not being nervous and touching the basketball again, and just the rhythm of the game. I missed it."
Irving practiced Wednesday with the Nets for the first time since October, when the team told him to go home. Because Irving declined to be vaccinated, and New York City rules require him to be to work in Brooklyn, the Nets decided not to use him as a part-time player to maintain consistency with the team.
But with a new surge in COVID-19 ravaging teams across the league, the Nets are bringing him back. The 29-year-old will play in most road games except those against the New York Knicks, as well as in Toronto due to Ontario's mandates.
In his comments to reporters, Irving discussed his anti-vaccination stance and gave no indication that it had changed.
"I knew the consequences. I wasn't prepared for them, by no stretch of the imagination," he said. "Coming into the season, I had my thought process of being able to be a full-time teammate and just go out and have fun and provide a great brand of basketball out there. But unfortunately, it didn't happen like that.
"Things happen for a reason, and now we're here and I'm just grateful for this."
The earliest Irving can return to game action is Jan. 5 on the road against the Indiana Pacers since New York's next three games are in Brooklyn. Irving was in the COVID-19 protocols and still working himself back into NBA-caliber shape.
Led by NBA scoring leader and MVP favorite Kevin Durant, the Nets have more than held their own without Irving. They are 23-9 and have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Durant just cleared COVID-19 protocols earlier this week and is slated to play Thursday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Still, head coach Steve Nash was happy to have Irving back at practice.
"He looks great considering he just came out of protocols and hasn't played basketball," Nash said, per the New York Post. "How does he recover from today? How many high-intensity does he need to feel comfortable, confident from a personal standpoint? ... I couldn't give you an answer."
Irving, a seven-time All-Star, played in 54 regular-season games for the Nets last season and averaged 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds.
In 582 career games (all starts) with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2011-17), Boston Celtics (2017-19) and Nets, he has averages of 22.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds.