The Sixers have their own unvaccinated bozo problem

·3 min read

Call it the Aaron Judge Rule, or the Mike Lupica Rule:

“When an athlete gets asked if he’s gotten the shot then declines to answer, that means he hasn’t gotten the shot.”*

That was the position the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics found themselves in last week. There are four teams that could be headed to Canada, where unvaccinated players are barred from entering, in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Two of them, the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks, told ESPN that all of their players were vaccinated. The Sixers and Celtics wouldn’t say, and you know what that means:

They have unvaccinated players. A corollary to the MLR is that it’s usually important ones, too: marginal players can’t risk throwing away games. In Boston, the Globe reported that “two frontline players” weren’t vaccinated, and rumor and inference quickly homed in on Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, who missed a game in Toronto along with two vaccinated players. Brown and Horford are declining to say if they’re vaccinated yet — you know what that means — but both say they would be ready for any hypothetical playoff matchup.

In Philly, there was some confusion. Every remotely important player on the team had either said they were vaccinated or was reported to be vaccinated. When the first injury report for Thursday’s matchup against the Raptors was released, all that confusion went away; the reporting was simply wrong. Bulldog defender Matisse Thybulle is unvaccinated and was therefore listed as “ineligible to play.” The Philadelphia Inquirer quickly changed language in an old story about Thybulle and others getting COVID from “those players were all vaccinated” to “the belief was all of those players were vaccinated.” The Sixers have been aware of the issue with Thybulle’s vaccination status for at least a month, according to PhillyVoice.

Thybulle’s offensive stats are paltry at five points and two boards per game, but he is absolutely vital to what the Sixers do. He’s among the NBA leaders in both steals and blocks, and is easily Philly’s best perimeter defender. He provides defense and depth to a team woefully lacking in both.

Canada defines “fully vaccinated” as two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or two weeks after the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meaning if he got vaccinated on Thursday, the absolute soonest he could play in a Sixers-Raptors series is two weeks from Thursday, April 21. With the playoffs starting on April 16, it is likely then that Thybulle would miss at least one potential game in Toronto.

Ironically, Kyrie Irving tanked Brooklyn’s regular season so badly with his decision to not get vaccinated that this probably won’t be a problem for the Nets. The Raptors are nearly locked into the fifth seed, while all the Nets have to do to clinch the seventh seed is win out and win a single home play-in game. As the No. 7 seed, the Nets would only face the Raptors in a highly improbable conference finals. And speaking of Irving, even if the circus that played out at Barclays was largely his fault, you could at least point to the fact that New York City is an extreme outlier with a private sector vaccine mandate.

Despite the grumblings of Adam Silver or Ime Udoka or basketball and baseball writers, that’s not really the situation here. The United States also requires non-citizens to be vaccinated to enter the country; Novak Djokovic currently can’t play any American tennis tournaments, and has already missed one because he’s unvaccinated.

Separately, James Harden, Doc Rivers and the Sixers have all authored their own spectacular series of playoff collapses over the last decade. You can only laugh if what fells them this time is what Harden was rightfully so desperate to escape in Brooklyn.

*The only known exception to the MLR is Pete Alonso, who last year participated in a series of “get the shot” PSAs and then, scrambling to cover for his many unvaccinated teammates, called the vaccine a personal choice. Alonso dropped the farce this spring and admitted he had been vaccinated all along.