As the Toronto Raptors ramp up to return to their home arena this season, Masai Ujiri says he’s been working to help some players feel comfortable about getting COVID-19 vaccines.
“They are touchy subjects. For some it’s religious, for some it’s beliefs, for some, it’s just the nature of how these vaccines were made,” the president of the Toronto Raptors told The Current‘s Matt Galloway.
“We just have to lead them to the health and scientific experts … [and] answer a lot of questions. And hopefully then it gets them to a point where they feel comfortable with it for themselves and their families,” Ujiri said.
The Raptors will open their preseason against the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 4.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns Scotiabank Arena, the Raptors’ home court, and has ownership stakes in the team, is requiring all of its employees to be vaccinated. Fans coming to games or concerts at their venues will need to show proof of vaccination to get in.
Attendance for Maple Leaf and Raptors games at Scotiabank Arena is limited to 50 per cent capacity.
The National Basketball Players Association says about 90 per cent of players in the league are fully vaccinated. NBA referees and team staff must be vaccinated, but there is no mandate for athletes to be vaccinated to play.
WATCH | Ujiri speaks to The Current’s Matt Galloway about the team’s vaccination status:
Ujiri said the Raptors players “have been very, very responsible,” and are “close to 100 per cent as an organization” when it comes to vaccinations.
“We have paid attention to this,” he said.
“I want to say that we are probably like the top of the NBA with where we are with vaccines — I might say even No. 1.”
The Current reached out to the Raptors’ public relations department, which declined to provide the exact number of players who have been vaccinated.
The Raptors return
The Raptors are just a week away from playing their first game in Canada since Feb. 28, 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the NBA down. The team played last season in Tampa Bay, Fla.
Ujiri acknowledges the pandemic has been tough on a lot of people coping with worse experiences, but from a basketball perspective, he says it was also a bad year.
“What we went through in terms of the NBA, in terms of basketball, was a disaster for us. It was a disaster.”
The Raptors struggled during the season, finishing with a 27-45 record. On a trip back to Toronto, Ujiri walked through Scotiabank Arena and saw the empty seats, which used to be filled with screaming Raptors fans.
“I missed it immensely, because this is our home. That interaction you have with people, you know, there’s nothing like it,” he said.
Ujiri says the team is looking forward to returning to Toronto.
“We can see the excitement in the players being home, being around what they know, the support, the fans, being comfortable.”
Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Idella Sturino.
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