By DAN GELSTON – AP Sportswriter
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Matisse Thybulle sat down, took a deep breath and took a moment to explain why he decided — a decision the Philadelphia 76ers defensive tackle tried to hide — not to fully fight COVID-19 19 to be vaccinated.
Thybulle’s pick will cost him game time in the postseason and could cost the Sixers their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series against Toronto.
Thybulle is barred from Canada because unvaccinated aliens are currently banned from entering the country and limited exceptions to the rule no longer apply to professional athletes.
Thybulle’s situation first came to light last week when he was suddenly listed as “ineligible to play” in the NBA’s injury report on Philadelphia’s recent trip to Toronto.
Thybulle broke his silence on Sunday as the Sixers took the fourth seed and took on the fifth-seeded Raptors. The Sixers will play at least Games 3 and 4 of the series in Toronto. Game 1 takes place on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
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“I grew up in a holistic household where anti-vax isn’t a term that’s ever been used, it’s an odd term that’s kind of been thrown around to just label people,” Thybulle said. “We grew up with Chinese medicine and naturopathic doctors. With just that upbringing, when I got into the situation, I felt like I had a solid base of medical resources that could serve me beyond what this vaccine could do for me. Of course, as things escalated and this situation developed, I had to reconsider and look at it differently.”
Thybulle said he felt the need to get a shot at an unspecified point in last year’s postseason – which was played in May and June because of COVID-19 – but did not get a second shot.
“I felt that if I want to be a part of society, I have to do the right thing for the greater good in the position I’m in,” Thybulle said. “This concern for the common good carried a lot of weight on me. As things have progressed, as this virus has evolved in many different ways, it has been shown that even while being vaccinated, you can spread the disease.”
The 25-year-old was a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, was named to the second-team NBA All-Defensive last season, and finished this season with a team-high of 114 steals in 65 games (49 starts).
Coach Doc Rivers has been a staunch supporter of his players receiving COVD-19 vaccinations and a booster.
“If you can get it, you should get it,” he said earlier this season. “(We should) send all the good news we can about it by doing the right thing.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in December the league was about 97% vaccinated and nearly 65% boosted.
But the vaccine became a flashpoint in the NBA this season when Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving refused to get it. The decision left him ineligible for home games until late last month – 75 games into the season. Irving said he stood “for freedom”.
Thybulle’s absence from Toronto should give veteran Danny Green a bigger role but will weaken an already thin bench. The Sixers were No. 1 in last year’s playoffs but lost three home games and dropped a seven-game streak in the second round against Atlanta.
NBA top scorer Joel Embiid and James Harden should lead her deep into this postseason, and while Thybulle wasn’t Philly’s most valuable player, he was valuable enough that his absence will be felt.
The Raptors won their season series against Philly 3-1.
“Tisse feels good about it. Shoot, I’m just telling him I support him,” said guard Shake Milton. “I know everyone else on this team supports him and it’s the story of this season all year round anyway. It was just the next man upstairs. I know we will be prepared, we will be ready and everyone is looking forward to it.”
Thybulle said he understands 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 understands the consequences.
“I thoroughly considered all the different possibilities and of course accepted that it could hurt money, contracts and reputation, but I felt like this was the right thing to do for me,” he said.
But was it right for the ’76ers?
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