The Current

Masai Ujiri on encouraging vaccine-hesitant Raptors to take the shot

As the Toronto Raptors ramp up to return to their home arena this season, team president Masai Ujiri says he's been working to help some players feel comfortable getting COVID-19 vaccines.

Raptors players 'have been very, very responsible,' Ujiri says as team readies to return home Oct. 4

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri said when players have questions or concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, he puts them in touch with experts. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Read Story Transcript

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.

At Monday's media day press conference, Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said the team is one second dose away from being fully vaccinated and will be at 100 per cent by opening night on Oct. 20.

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: 

Raptors president Masai Ujiri says team is ‘close to 100 per cent’ vaccinated

2 years ago
Duration 1:55
Ujiri says he’s been helping players get comfortable with COVID-19 vaccines by connecting them with experts

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 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 down the NBA. 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. 

The Toronto Raptors will play their first preseason game on Oct. 4, the first game in Toronto since February 2020. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

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.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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