Last month, in a conference call with reporters to discuss the start of the season, I asked Adam Silver about the NBA’s alternate plans, specifically, a return to a bubble-like environment that allowed the league to round out so the 2019-20 season safe. —In case the COVID-19 pandemic becomes too disruptive.
“As you can imagine, we have a lot of alternative plans in the drawers,” Silver said. “Depending on how this goes, we will look for other alternatives if necessary.”
The NBA might need it.
The last week has been one of the most crippling in the league. Four players tested positive for COVID-19, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Kevin Durant, who tested positive last March, was sidelined due to NBA health and safety protocols, which, translated, means that contact tracing determined that Durant was exposed to someone with the virus. The Celtics’ front court suffered cuts Friday when Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams were removed for the same reason. Philadelphia barely managed to muster a minimum of eight players Saturday after Seth Curry’s positive diagnosis wreaked havoc on the roster.
“The last 36 hours have been crazy,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t think we should [play]. I am concerned about the health of our players on the pitch ”.
None of this is the NBA’s fault, of course. A return to a bubble similar to Orlando’s for an entire season was unrealistic, as both Silver and NBPA chief Michele Roberts have indicated. The league has painstaking protocols in place that do everything possible to keep players safe. Recently, the NBA required players to wear sensors to help with contact tracing.
There has been some confusion. The way the NBA defines “close contact” is an area. Following the lead of the Center for Disease Control, the league defines close contact as being within six feet of a COVID-positive person for at least 15 minutes. That means players who test positive are not identified as being in close contact with opponents. In Washington, where the Wizards’ last two games were against Philadelphia (a game that Curry played in 36 minutes) and Boston (where Jayson Tatum, who is supposed to miss 10-14 days, a timeline associated with a positive test) , played 35 minutes), some team officials wondered why there wasn’t a break in the schedule to fix everything.
Still, this is a contagious virus.
The NBA, or anyone, can do a lot to keep it at bay.
The NBA hasn’t panicked over this week’s results. The league fully anticipated the positive tests, which Silver emphasized in the call with reporters. And January was expected to be one of the toughest months, with the league feeling the consequences of the Christmas break.
But what if the next few weeks look a lot like this?
What if the integrity of the regular season is further compromised?
When is it time to bubble?
Getting owners to join another bubble could be challenging. “They don’t want to pay for it,” said a senior team executive. AND. In fact, the cost of the Orlando bubble was around $ 180 million. While most teams are not generating revenue, the appetite for investing millions to rebuild a safe environment is expected to be minimal.
And the NBA believes things might to get better. The hope, and that’s all there is to it right now, is that the further the holiday schedule moves away, the safer it will be. Wider distribution of a COVID vaccine should progressively reduce the need for contact tracing, and there is optimism that by spring, the vaccines could be available enough that players and coaches can begin receiving them.
But all these are unknowns. It’s worth noting that the NBA will have the infrastructure for a bubble. The league announced this week that the G-League will play its season in a Disney bubble. In February, 18 teams will call Lake Buena Vista, Florida, home for a season expected to last about a month. There are also a growing number of team officials who believe, regardless of a bubble, that the NBA should consider a week-long hiatus from the season.
“It’s fucking crazy right now,” said one NBA coach. AND. “Honestly, we go to work every day wondering who will be available.”
The NBA should consider a return to a bubble, if only for self-preservation. For years, the league has worked to ensure that star players were available for high-profile games. Durant was out of last Thursday’s nationally televised game against Philadelphia. Tatum could miss two ESPN-televised games against Philadelphia if he is forced to skip for two full weeks. Television ratings, something the NBA watches closely, could suffer.
One bubble does not solve everything. But it has been shown to allow the league to finish a season safely. It is not ideal. But it may be what remains.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.