PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Matisse Thybulle sat down, took a deep breath and took a moment to explain why he made the decision — which the Philadelphia 76ers’ defensive specialist admitted he tried to hide — not to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. .
Thybulle’s pick will cost him playing time in the postseason and could cost the Sixers their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against Toronto.
Thybulle cannot enter Canada because unvaccinated foreign nationals are currently barred from entering the country and the limited exemptions to the rule no longer apply to professional athletes.
Thybulle’s situation first became known last week when he was suddenly listed as “not eligible to play” on the NBA’s injury report on the most recent trip from Philadelphia to Toronto.
Thybulle broke his silence on Sunday as the Sixers clinched the No. 4 seed and faced the fifth-seeded Raptors. The Sixers will play at least Games 3 and 4 of the series in Toronto. Game 1 is Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I was brought up in a holistic household, where anti-vaccine is not like a term that was once used, it’s a weird term that has been used to label people,” Thybulle said. “We grew up with Chinese medicine and naturopathic doctors. Just with that education, going into the situation, I felt like I had a solid foundation of medical resources that could serve me beyond what this vaccine could do for me. As things escalated and this situation developed, obviously I had to reconsider and look at it differently.”
Thybulle said he felt the need for a chance at an unspecified point in last year’s postseason, which was played in May and June due to COVID-19, but did not get a second chance.
“I felt that if I’m going to be a part of society, in the position I’m in, I need to do the right thing for the greater good,” Thybulle said. “That argument with the greater good carried a lot of weight with me. As things went on, as this virus has changed in many different ways, he showed… that even while he was vaccinated, he could spread the disease.”
The 25-year-old was a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team last season and finished this season with a team-high 114 steals in 65 games (49 openings).
Coach Doc Rivers has been a strong advocate for his players getting COVD-19 shots and a booster.
“If you can get it, you should get it,” he said earlier this season. “(We should send) whatever good message we can send about it by doing the right thing.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in December that the league was 97% vaccinated and nearly 65% had received boosters.
But the vaccine became a flash point in the NBA this season when Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving refused to receive it. The decision left him ineligible to play at home until the end of last month — 75 games into the season. Irving said that he was “defending freedom.”
Thybulle’s absence in Toronto should give veteran Danny Green a bigger role, but it will weaken an already thin bench. The Sixers were the No. 1 seed in last year’s playoffs, but dropped three games at home and dropped a seven-game second-round series to Atlanta.
NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid and James Harden were expected to guide them deep into this postseason, and while Thybulle wasn’t Philadelphia’s most valuable player, he was valuable enough that his absence was felt.
The Raptors won their season series against Philly 3-1.
“Tisse feels something about it. Shoot, I’m just telling him I support him,” guard Shake Milton said. “I know everyone else on this team supports him, and he’s been the story of this season all year anyway. He has been the next man to go up. I know we’re going to be ready, we’re going to be ready and everyone is looking forward to it.”
Thybulle said he understood that there are people within the organization, as well as fans, who are upset and dismayed by his decision. He said his father taught him to make the right decision for himself, as long as he understood the consequences.
“I deeply considered all the different avenues and of course I accepted that this could hurt money, contracts, reputation, but I felt like this was the right thing for me to do for myself,” he said.
But was it the right thing for the 76ers?
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