The San Antonio Spurs have so far avoided the virus going through the league
When the NBA announced that it would not be pursuing the bubble concept that worked so well over the summer it wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Asking players on the San Antonio Spurs and other teams to isolate for a few weeks was one thing. But a multi-month season? Totally different matter.
Since it became clear that the NBA wouldn’t utilize bubbles again it’s always been a matter of when and to what degree the season was impacted by COVID-19, not if. Well, that moment is here and is only continuing to build.
So far, several teams across both conferences have been impacted by the coronavirus. Players on the 76ers, Celtics, Heat, and Mavericks have all had to self-isolate. The Mavericks went so far as to close their practice facility after several positive tests had been reported.
The San Antonio Spurs have been fortunate enough to have avoided positive cases on their team but I don’t think anyone can have lived through the past year and believe things will stay that way. At some point this season, someone on the team is likely going to come down with the virus. So how does the league plan to respond if this thing continues to build?
How will the NBA respond to the rapid spread of COVID-19?
Adam Silver has said that the league was prepared for isolated cases and that play would continue as long the situation is safe and sustainable. But what is that line in the sand, how much spread is too much and when will the NBA have to make adjustments?
In an interview with ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Silver made clear that the decision-making process will be made based on the health and safety of the players.
“There are no firm numbers on this… if we found a situation where our protocols weren’t working, meaning that not only did we have some cases of COVID but that we were witnessing spread either among teams or even possibly to another team, that would cause us to suspend the season. The decision tree that we will look at in terms of suspending the season will be solely a health and safety one. If at any point we no longer believe that it is responsible to play, we will halt the season.”
Respectfully, if what we’re seeing now isn’t cause enough for the league to pause play, what is it going to take? Does a star like LeBron James or Luka Doncic have to miss significant time after contracting the virus?
Last month, the Florida Gators’ Keyonte Johnson collapsed mid-game. He had COVID-19 months before and would later be diagnosed with acute myocarditis, a heart inflammation linked to COVID-19. Is this the kind of incident that would spark a change in the NBA?
I’m not trying to be hyperbolic or pessimistic, these are legitimate questions that need answering. How much risk is acceptable? How much is the league willing to put its players through and how much exposure will the players themselves willing to undergo?
While the decision-making process will be “solely a health and safety one” we can’t all sit here and pretend that the economic realities that the NBA is facing aren’t playing a factor in the decision making process. Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs across dozens of industries are relying on the NBA to keep running.
Whether Silver will admit it or not, that has to be playing into the decision making process to some degree. To exactly what extent is a mystery and will likely stay that way.
There is no clear answer to this, only more questions. The one thing that is clear is that barring a return to the bubble concept or something similar, it seems unlikely that the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the league make it to the end of the season without some sort of stoppage.