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Thursday, July 9, 2020

NBA’s return via Disney will depend on whether virus allows it: column

The league has a detailed plan, full of safety protocols and cautious measures. But the ongoing rise of coronavirus cases in Florida shows there’s no way to plan for every contingency.
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The NBA gave teams a 113-page plan last week for the resumption of the season, detailing every safety protocol and the most cautious measures. They combined the science that is known and even included futuristic ring bands to help protect the players.

And after all of that carefully plotted strategy for life in the bubblelike environment at Disney World, one of the last bits of information was the admission that if this doesn’t go right, there is the possibility that the league will be shut down again.

The season, which has been on hold since March 11 because of COVID-19, is scheduled to resume with games on July 30. Teams are set to report to training camp at their home facilities this week and then travel to Disney World in mid-July.

It all sounds as if NBA commissioner Adam Silver, along with teams of doctors and scientists — and Disney chairman Bob Iger — planned for every contingency.

Except that as we move toward the reopening of the NBA, we see that there is no way to plan out every contingency.

The murder of George Floyd has created protests around the world, and NBA players have taken their place as leaders in the movement for social justice. It has split the players, some seeking a return to the game and others wondering aloud if their place is on the front lines of protests and in their communities.

Some players have felt — with the encouragement of NBA leadership — that heading into the bubble with the attention focused on the games might provide a great opportunity to speak out and be heard. But the NBA has informed players that there will be no penalty for skipping out on life in the bubble, whether it is for protests or even for an unwillingness to put their families on hold while retreating into seclusion at Disney World for months.

But it’s not just the state of the nation that could disrupt the plans.

The NBA is placing players on a campus at Disney in what they want to believe is an airtight environment. The players and staff will be tested for the virus before heading into the bubble, with the doors slamming behind them. Tests will come regularly after that, and if a player tests positive, he immediately will be placed in a quarantine room, separated from teammates for at least two weeks.

Silver warned players more than a month ago that if a positive test would prompt them to want to shut down, they shouldn’t even restart. The National Basketball Players Association bought in, and in theory, it all sounded good.

But we’ve already seen plans from other sports go awry.

A coronavirus outbreak shut down the Philadelphia Phillies’ facility on Friday in Clearwater, with five players and three staffers testing positive. The Toronto Blue Jays also shut down in nearby Dunedin, with one player displaying symptoms after socializing with Phillies players. Both incidents spurred Major League Baseball to close all 30 spring training facilities. In the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning shut down their training facility, with three players and additional staff members testing positive.

Those workouts were not conducted with the same rigor as the NBA season will be. Players were allowed to come and go in the public. But as tight as the NBA tries to close the walls, there still is the possibility of a player testing positive.

The players will be confined to the bubble, and anyone who leaves it faces a long path to get back in. But those restrictions don’t apply to the Disney employees who will head home after work every day. There will be temperature checks as they file into work each day, but while it may be rare, there is so much unknown about the ability to spread the virus as an asymptomatic or presymptomatic carrier.

If one employee is able to spread it and does so — even to one player — what happens next? Basketball is high on the charts of risky behaviors for the virus spread. Could a player get it and quickly spread it to teammates and opponents? What happens then?

The reality is there is a start date of July 30 for the resumption of the season. There is a last possible end date of Oct. 13 for a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But can the NBA get to that final game and final date? That is something that the league can’t assure anyone of right now.

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