A third NBA player tests positive for COVID-19
On Saturday, the Detroit Pistons announced that a preliminary positive result had come back for one of its players. The player—fourth-year forward Christian Wood, a source confirmed to SI.com—has been in isolation since Wednesday and under the care of the team’s medical staff, per the Pistons. Last Wednesday, Wood complained of flu-like symptoms the morning of Detroit’s game against Philadelphia, sources with knowledge of the situation told SI.com. Wood felt well enough to play 39 minutes in the Pistons loss to the Sixers, but was immediately tested on Thursday, when the team returned to Detroit.
There have been signs that exposure to coronavirus has been contained—Wood, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are the only known positives, while the Toronto Raptors, a team with recent exposure to the Jazz, all tested negative and there are no known players reporting symptoms—but there remains concern amongst NBA players and team officials that more cases could surface.
With the U.S. facing a testing shortage, the NBA has come under fire for what has been perceived as preferential treatment. But it hasn’t. As SI.com reported on Friday, Jazz players and staffers were tested at the direction of Oklahoma state health officials, who deemed it a public health decision. Gobert was Oklahoma City’s first positive test, and health officials needed to track the movements of Gobert—as well as any other person who popped with a positive test—in an effort to trace any potential spread.
A similar decision was made in Toronto, where all members of the Raptors traveling party was tested. A testing shortage is a major problem in the U.S. and unquestionably part of the reason the coronavirus continues to spread. But it’s the well-being of the community at large that has led to so many NBA players and staff being tested, not the league’s status as a multi-billion dollar industry.
A new timeline emerges
On Sunday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that in-person gatherings of 50 people or more be postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks, effectively extending the NBA’s hiatus until at least mid-May. In a memo distributed on Sunday night, teams were informed that players would be allowed to travel out of market with consultation with their teams. The NBA also extended its ban on team practices indefinitely, per ESPN. That’s significant. In recent days, players had openly wondered: If it is too dangerous for us to play in empty arenas, why would it not be too dangerous to practice in a similar environment?
Speculating on when the NBA might return is just that—guesswork. ESPN reported that while owners are preparing a plan to finish the season without fans, a mid to late June start is viewed as the best case scenario. That would likely push the Finals into August, a decision that would obviously impact the start of the 2020-21 season. Expect owners to look for any possible way to salvage the playoffs, but with infection rates expected to increase (“It will get worse,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House’s point person for the coronavirus, testified to Congress last week) skepticism that the NBA will be able to finish the season continues to grow.
Will the NBA continue to pay players?
NBA owners are not talking about money, Adam Silver said in his first public comments last week, but in the coming weeks how the league navigates the new financial landscape will be discussed. In response to the news that players would be allowed to leave their markets, Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie tweeted “if they ain’t controlling where we’re at, they may stop ‘controlling’ those checks too.” The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement contains a clause called the force majeure event, which covers pandemics like the coronavirus that, if triggered, would effectively free owners from having to play players a percentage of their remaining salaries.
The longer this NBA shutdown lasts, the more likely it is that owners seek to halt payments to players. Silver enjoys a strong working relationship with NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, along with NBPA president Chris Paul. Expect leadership from the NBA and NBPA to begin discussing solutions in the near future—if they haven’t already.
How about some good news?
Last week, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love announced he would donate $100,000 to help pay team and arena hourly employees during the NBA’s hiatus. Love’s generosity opened the floodgates, with players like Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson making comparable contributions. Teams have been stepping up, too. Over the weekend several NBA teams announced plans to pay part time and hourly employees during the work stoppage. The Warriors owners, players and coaches established a $1 million disaster relief fund for Chase Center employees. More teams are expected to follow.
Players are helping those outside the team who have been impacted by coronavirus, too. Gobert donated $500,000 to coronavirus-related causes. Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns said he will be donating $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic, which has begun rolling out a test to detect the virus that causes COVID-19.
In challenging times, NBA players and teams are doing some impactful things to help those hurt by this global pandemic.