On his weekly visit with 98.5 The SportsHub’s Toucher & Rich, President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens diplomatically approached his team’s vaccination status.
“I know what you’re getting at, obviously, with this,” Stevens said. “As an organization we’ve said from day one, we’re not going to comment on our team vaccination status or individual vaccination status, and as you said, the rules have kind of fluctuated as the year’s gone on. And, so, I feel like our job is to make sure that we continue to educate and make sure to keep everybody abreast of those changes, and the NBA has done a great job of that, all across the league.
“Anyways, I know that’s not, probably, the exact answer you’re looking for, but that’s where we stand and that’s all I really have to say about it.”
On Monday, the team lost an overtime squeaker in Toronto without four-fifths of the starting lineup available. Officially, Robert Williams, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown were unavailable on the back end of a back-to-back with injuries and Al Horford was out for a second straight game for personal reasons.
The Celtics currently sit alone as the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks in the loss column and a game up on the Philadelphia 76ers. The Raptors are also entrenched in tight battle for playoff seeding. They’re half a game behind the Chicago Bulls for the 5th seed (and tied in the loss column). With less than two weeks and a handful of games to go in the regular season, there’s a good chance that Boston’s road through the postseason could run through Scotiabank Areana in the first round.
There’s some conjecture as to whether all members of the Celtics have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Williams is vaccinated, but won’t be available in the first round as he recovers from surgery on his torn left meniscus anyway. And as Bontemps notes, Tatum stated at Media Day that he was vaccinated. Brown’s and Horford’s statuses are unclear and both have been in the league’s health and safety protocols this season (Horford, twice).
Back in September, Brown spoke about the league’s push to get its players vaccinated before the season. “Everybody has their own thoughts about it. Personally, I have my closest family members are vaccinated. I have family members who are vaccinated who are concerned with getting the booster shot or multiple booster shots, and I have some people in my family who are not vaccinated at all,” Brown said in training camp. “It’s just dependent on your situation, your family, and how you feel. I think that sets the agenda for each and every individual. I think the NBA and the Players’ Association are definitely the frontrunners in terms of society about getting vaccinated.”
A common misconception exists that because they’ve played in games in New York, the Celtics should also qualify for play north of the border; however, local restrictions at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center do not apply to visiting teams.
Since training camp, the team has publicly taken the same nondisclosure tact that Stevens voiced today: a player’s vaccination status is private and they’ll obviously obey any local mandates when it comes COVID protocols. On January 15, Canada put restrictions on unvaccinated foreigners entering the country. The Celtics game in Toronto on November 28 was pre-Omicron and before the latest revised border measures were implemented.
Since missing the Monday matchup with the Raptors, Horford has addressed the issue of his vaccination status. “We’re clear on it,” Horford said after losing to the Heat on Wednesday. “I’ll be ready to play wherever.” For what it’s worth, it’s unclear whether or not he’s currently vaccinated or will receive the required shots before the playoffs begin in mid-April.
Head coach Ime Udoka, who dealt with a breakthrough case of COVID to start the preseason, has stated that “if healthy, they can all play.” So, while that doesn’t definitively address the rumors and speculations of where the Celtics stand today, it should calm any concerns that they’ll be restricted in the playoffs.