In less than two weeks, NBA players will begin to arrive in Orlando. On July 30, the regular season will resume for 22 teams willing to spend as long as three-plus months in the isolated campus surrounding Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
“We believe we’ve developed a safe and responsible way to restart the season,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said on a conference call Friday. “We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now. We can’t sit on the sidelines indefinitely. We must adapt.
“We’re coming back because sports matter in a society. They bring people together when we need it the most.”
However, Silver later acknowledged the season that was suspended on March 11, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, may never be completed.
“We haven’t worked through every scenario … [but] if we were to have significant spread of coronavirus throughout the community, that ultimately might lead us to stop it,” Silver said. “We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens … but we feel very comfortable right now with where we are.”
Silver said the fast-rising number of positive COVID-19 cases across the country has increased his “level of concern” and acknowledged it was a “fair question,” whether the NBA would have chosen to restart its season in Florida, knowing the state would set multiple single-day records of positive cases this week.
“Of course, we designed our campus, in essence, to isolate ourselves from whatever the levels are in the surrounding community,” Silver said. “It’s on the rise in the majority of states right now and our ultimate conclusion was we can’t outrun the virus, which is why we designed the campus the way we did. It’s a closed network. While it’s not impermeable, we’re at least protected from what’s around us.”
At least initially, players will be tested daily and be required to wear masks when they are not playing. There will also be a medical clinic set up on the campus.
In the first wave of mandatory tests this week, the NBA said 16 players — out of 302 — tested positive for the coronavirus. Any player who tests positive on campus will be forced to quarantine, while play would continue for those who test negative. No player is contractually required to return to action, though absent players will forfeit the salary for games missed.
“We understand the risks involved, but everyone is ready to make a sacrifice,” said Andre Iguodala, NBPA first vice president. “A lot of people in America don’t have jobs right now.”
Following the killing of George Floyd and the countless protests nationwide fighting racial injustice, Nets guard Kyrie Irving found support from some players, who also believe games should not continue and distract from the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Ultimately, though, most players believed greater impact can be made with millions of eyes watching the league’s highly anticipated return.
“We’ve agreed on a number of initiatives for social justice,” NBPA president Chris Paul said. “I’m excited for what we can do that is a lot bigger than the game. … It’s not a shut-up-and-dribble situation. You are going to continue to hear from us.”
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