Los Angeles: Sixteen NBA players have tested positive for the coronavirus, news that came on the same day that the league and its players announced they were moving forward with a comprehensive plan to restart the season near Orlando, Florida, even as positive cases of the virus that shut down the season surge.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts and NBPA president Chris Paul expressed varying levels of optimism Friday about the planned season reboot on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex despite a drastic rise in positive tests in the counties surrounding the league’s proposed bubble.
Silver said that while the league possibly would be considering different locations had it been choosing a place to resume its season today, he believes the NBA has created the best possible environment for its players considering the circumstances.
“My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus and that this is what we’re going to be living with for the foreseeable future, which is why we designed the campus the way we did and so that we are _ it’s a closed network, and that while it’s not impermeable, we are in essence protected from cases around us,” Silver said. “At least that’s the model. For those reasons we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.”
Cases in Orange County, Florida, where the Disney campus is located, have risen sharply since the NBA first voted to resume play with 22 teams this month. On Thursday, the county reported 727 new cases of the virus, with a positive test rate of 17.9 per cent. Slightly more than a week ago, residents of the county were mandated to wear masks when in public to fight the climb in infection rates.
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One person in the league not authorised to speak publicly laughed when asked about the possibility of a 'Plan B' location — too much work has gone into the protocols for Orlando and couldn’t be replicated elsewhere. Either games are happening on the Disney campus or they’re not happening.
One of the biggest concerns among players and executives headed to Orlando had to do with Disney workers who would be living in their homes off campus. Silver said that in response to rising positive tests, the league was working with Disney to produce regular testing for workers who would potentially share spaces with NBA players or staff.
The league conducted 302 tests this week with 5.298 per cent positive. The league has not released test results for coaches or support staff members who were also tested at the start of the week.
“I think one (positive) would have been concerning, but God forgive me, I’m somewhat relieved that the number was not higher,” Roberts said. “I’m also relieved that we had the foresight to identify the players that would be testing positive now because our goal, of course, is to make sure that when guys do report to campus that they’d be reporting having been tested negative.
“I’ve been holding my breath for the last few weeks, and again, maybe I should be less enthusiastic or optimistic. If nothing else, it’s told me that the great majority of our players have been doing exactly what they should have been doing, which is keeping safe. Again, one is too many, but 150 would have been devastating.”
Silver said the NBA wouldn’t halt games if a star player like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo were to contract the virus before a key game or series.
“We haven’t worked through every scenario, but the notion would be that if we had a single player test positive, frankly, whether that player was an All-Star or a journeyman, that player would then go into quarantine,” Silver said. “That team would be down a man, and we would treat that positive test as we would an injury during the season, so we would not delay the continuation of the playoffs.
“Of course, if we were to have significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping.”
According to the NBA health and safety protocols, players who test positive inside the Orlando campus must immediately enter isolation housing. Assuming the positive test is confirmed, the player will remain in isolation until he is asymptomatic, has passed two consecutive tests more than 24 hours apart and received medical clearance. Before returning to play, players must also undergo a cardiac screening.
In addition to fighting the coronavirus, the NBA and its players will try to continue the fight against social injustices and racial inequality.
The NBA and the union have agreed in principle to use their platforms “to find tangible and sustainable ways to address racial inequality across the country. Leaders from the NBA and the NBPA have also discussed strategies to increase Black representation across the NBA and its teams, ensure greater inclusion of Black-owned and operated businesses across NBA business activities, and form an NBA foundation to expand educational and economic development opportunities across the Black community,” the NBA said in a statement Friday.
Paul, who played for the Los Angeles Clippers when a tape of owner Donald Sterling using racist language surfaced, said players needed to hear from team owners as to what they believed about these issues.
“Us players had conversations with each other, and one of the biggest things to tell you the truth was teams wanted to know where their governors stood on the situation,” Paul said. “There’s been a lot of hard conversations that have had to be had, and I think that was huge for players. For players, we want to know how someone feels, especially if you’re putting their jersey on.”
The NBA has maintained that they’ve wanted to return to action for the social good, though with league revenues paused at zero for months, the ability to deliver 88 “seeding games” and a full playoff schedule will satisfy the league’s broadcast partners (even if the cost of putting on the games, as some people project, will significantly offset the financial gains).
Still, Silver again said the NBA’s aim is greater.
“Ultimately, whether it’s fighting racism or a pandemic, we’re coming back because sports matter in our society,” Silver said. “They bring people together when we need it the most, and they can show how we can balance public health and economic necessity, plus a desire for shared experiences and something to cheer for through the months ahead.”