NBA players must be vaccinated or have medical clearance to play in Canada, memo says

The NBA informed teams Monday that players still need to have either received a primary course of a COVID-19 vaccine, or been given a medical clearance from getting one, in order to play games in Canada, according to a league memo obtained by ESPN.

The memo also states that, should players be ineligible to play in games in Canada, teams must list them as, "Out - Health and Safety Protocols," and they will lose their pay for any games missed due to not being vaccinated.

Those are the same rules that governed being able to play in Toronto since the middle of last season -- rules that prohibited at least two players, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle, from participating in road games against the Raptors last season.

Irving, after his return to the court for Brooklyn in early January, was forced to sit out a game in Toronto because he was unvaccinated. Thybulle, meanwhile, missed both a regular-season game in late April and all three playoff road games in Toronto -- a series Philadelphia ultimately won in six games -- because he never received a second COVID-19 shot.

"It was not the outcome that I wanted," Thybulle said to reporters back in April in discussing the situation. "It's always hard to not be available."

Late in the regular season, ESPN reported that the 76ers and Boston Celtics both declined to comment on whether their teams were fully vaccinated, in the event they would have to play a playoff series in Toronto, while the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat both said their teams were fully vaccinated. While Boston wound up never playing Toronto, Thybulle ultimately missed those four games against the Raptors in Canada.

Irving, meanwhile, missed a large chunk of last season after a similar rule in New York prevented him from playing in home games for the vast majority of the regular season -- a rule that changed late in the regular season.

This season, the Raptors will play at least 44 games in Canada: preseason games in Edmonton against the Utah Jazz; Montreal against the Boston Celtics; and Toronto against the Chicago Bulls; plus their typical 41 regular-season home games at Scotiabank Arena and any additional playoff games.

The same rules apply both to going to Canada to play in a game, as well as for entering the United States. Anyone playing for the Raptors, therefore, would have to be vaccinated in order to play in any game this season. Last season, the Raptors were fully vaccinated.

The NBA's regular-season schedule is expected to be unveiled sometime later this month.

The subject of vaccinations in Toronto has been a season-long issue in baseball, where unvaccinated players have been unable to play against the Blue Jays for the same reasons. One of them, utility player Whit Merrifield, was traded to the Blue Jays -- after being ineligible to play in Toronto as a member of the Kansas City Royals earlier in the season -- and subsequently got vaccinated in order to be able to play for his new team.

Bleacher Report first reported that the memo had been circulated to teams Monday.