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NBA Could Have Playoff Dilemma On Its Hands Because Of Toronto

There are 30 teams in the NBA. Twenty-nine of those are located in the United States. The other is located in Canada, Toronto to be exact.

In order to cross the American-Canadian border, you have to be vaccinated. NBA players, however, are free to play in any American city, regardless of vaccination status. No borders need to be crossed, no vaccine mandates currently exist for athletes playing in any American city.

This hasn’t been much of an issue during the regular season. Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has missed games in Brooklyn, New York and Toronto for his refusal to be vaccinated — but who cares? It’s the regular season.

Irving is unvaccinated and has made it abundantly clear that is not about to change. He recently has said he will “stand alongside” others who are unvaccinated, especially if it is keeping them from performing or keeping their jobs.

But the playoffs will be here soon, the Toronto Raptors stand a good chance to be a part of them. Eight teams in each NBA conference qualify for the postseason; the Raptors currently sit in sixth place in the East (through Tuesday night).

But as it turns out, Irving isn’t the NBA’s only unvaccinated player. According to an ESPN report, neither the Boston Celtics nor Philadelphia 76ers will say if they meet Canada’s vaccination rule. Each of those teams is a potential playoff opponent for the Raptors.

Granted, just because they’re not telling ESPN doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t mean they have players who are unvaccinated. It could mean they aren’t required to share that information with ESPN, so therefore, have decided not to.

But yes, it could also mean they have unvaccinated players. That would mean those players would have to miss playoff games in Toronto. Not anywhere else, mind you — just Toronto.

Now, before we go any further, it should be noted that Toronto players couldn’t cross the border and play, either. But that’s one team, in another country. All the other 29 teams would have to buckle to the American-Canadian border rule.

The solution here, of course, is to get vaccinated. But that isn’t for everyone. The same crowd that screams about vaccination is also often in the “my body, my choice” camp.

“I mean, it’s your own decision,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said, via ESPN. “I fully understand the concerns of those who aren’t vaccinated that don’t want to, and I understand the people like myself that did. It’s your own personal health and your reason.

“Nobody should be judged one way or the other, whatever their decision is.”

All NBA players seem to agree with Tatum. At least, all the ones who go on record do.

“I have my own thoughts about it but I respect my teammates’ decisions and things like that,” Brown said. “I know everybody has their own opinion about it but I think it’s a personal choice.”

There are a couple of solutions here. One is to have the Raptors play home games in the United States. Per multiple members of the Toronto media, the Raptors are all vaccinated, so it wouldn’t be a problem.

Another, again, would be for the unvaccinated players on opposing teams to get vaccinated. But if that hasn’t happened already, it’s probably not going to.

“We all got vaccinated and the league had about three or four times the COVID outbreak as it did last year,” one general manager told OutKick. “What was the point? It’s not like (NBA) players were dropping dead when they weren’t vaccinated (in 2020-21).”

This is not a massive deal for the NBA, but it is an issue. Having a team in Toronto is a good idea. Fans there are fervent. But it may not be a good idea for the playoffs.

NBA teams can play 28 other NBA teams in the playoffs without any of their players needing to get vaccinated, with their players allowed to exercise the “personal choice” that Tatum, Brown, Irving and others speak of.

But throw Toronto in the mix, and no matter how you spin it, everything gets mucked up.

Written by Sam Amico

Sam Amico is the assistant managing editor-newsdesk at OutKick. He is also the co-founder and senior writer at Hoopswire.com, and has covered the NBA for nearly 20 years, including his time at Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports and CBS Sports. A native of Akron, Ohio, his writing career began in Wyoming.

4 Comments

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  1. Hasn’t this been the Canadian rule all year? If so Philly and Boston have played at least a road game there. Any players sit it out? Process of elimination to figure it out. Seems like a story for no reason but hey.

  2. Obviously not a pro athlete, but this problem does go both ways. As a Canadian I had to take a vax I didn’t want or I couldn’t enter the US to see my fiancée of 3 years. BOTH countries have idiotic policies.

  3. It is beyond astounding that we are still dealing with this nonsense more than two years – not two weeks, two freaking years – later. I have nothing against the Raptors, but I will be rooting hard for them to lose early and just be gone.

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