The NBA has released its health and safety protocols for the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season. The 113-page document is detailed to the max and consists of everything from required COVID-19 testing, magicbands, entertainment, social distancing guidelines and game day schedules. According to the NBA, these protocols are based on CDC guidance; review with medical experts advising the NBA, NBPA, and Disney. The Crossover staff gave their thoughts on how the NBA plans to document the healthy and safety of the players, coaches, and staff in Orlando.
As expected, the NBA memo was detailed. Maybe too detailed. No doubles ping pong? Discarding playing cards after each game? A hotline to report violations? Several items in the 113-page memo are a little—wait for it—Goofy. What’s not is the item on page 44, Health Monitoring for Other Individuals, in which the NBA confirms that some Disney employees will not be required to undergo regular coronavirus testing. Instead, they will be subject to temperature and symptom checks to gain access to the bubble.
Disney employees won’t have free reign, of course. They will be required to wear masks and these employees are ones not required to come within six feet of players. Still: Does allowing access to untested staffers not defeat the purpose of the bubble? I understand the NBA is threading a very tight needle here. It would be hard to quarantine hundreds of staffers, in addition to hundreds of NBA players and team and league personnel in Orlando. But worst-case scenario for the NBA is if a team is decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak. The integrity of the postseason, something the NBA has desperately tried to preserve, would be destroyed. There is no way to eliminate risk in this but having any untested staffers inside the bubble would seem to increase the risk significantly.
Other than the fact that Florida itself (given the data and spike in coronavirus cases) seems like a precarious place to hold any major event right now, I think it's clear at this point that the NBA has given this a lot of thought. The memo is pretty comprehensive. Not everyone in the bubble is going to enjoy this, but it’s certainly not a reckless or half-assed attempt at safety. I think it's fair to assume that there are going to be players who contract COVID-19, and there are certainly worst-case scenarios here (for example, imagine if the majority of a team’s players and traveling personnel got sick). Expecting all 22 teams to operate with maximum diligence at all times in close quarters is probably a pipe dream. How much the NBA can really enforce rules, I don’t know. But I'm hopeful everyone will take this seriously.
Also, I'm taking bets on which NBA player will inevitably spoil Black Widow.
The NBA’s 100-plus page health and safety manual is exhaustive and thorough. It does everything from laying out a big-picture plan for how the Orlando bubble environment might work in terms of gradual phasing, to drilling down into the more detailed aspects of daily life, i.e. using disposable packs of cards and not using communal headsets when playing video games. Still, questions remain. Namely, how many positives COVID-19 tests it would take to drastically impact the NBA’s course of action and at worse, stop the 2019-20 season entirely. The answer to that question in particular might come as a result of the continued evolution of the information the NBA receives and how its protocols evolve. The NBA does deserves some credit for its initial rollout.
However, the release of the NBA’s safety plan also in some ways validated one of the arguments reportedly made by Kyrie Irving on last Friday’s NBPA call with more than 80 players. Irving reportedly said, in part, that the NBA's return would distract the general public from the ongoing fight against racial injustices and against police brutality. Last night, such was the case as buried in the release of the league’s health information was a league-issued statement, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania which said, “A central goal of our season restart will be to utilize the NBA's platform to bring attention and sustained action to issues of social injustice…” At least on Tuesday night on NBA Twitter, conversations dealt far more with Disney hotel power rankings and the restriction of doubles ping-pong. How the league tangibly brings attention and sustained action to change on issues of social injustice might go as long of a way as getting players to Orlando as the health and safety manual.
I appreciate the depth and detail of the NBA's return-to-play plan, and it seems as though a significant portion of players' concerns on the safety front have been answered. There will be strict testing protocols in place, and it seems as though contact between players and non-players will be minimal. But that doesn't mean the plan will go off without a hitch.
It's hard to see the NBA completely avoiding a slate of positive tests in Orlando, and the social distancing guidelines between the players isn't exactly full proof. Having any sort of conclusion to the season is effectively welcoming the chance of players contracting COVID-19, especially with 22 teams placed in what amounts to an extended bubble. This isn't saying the NBA is necessarily wrong for resuming the season. Both the league and the players are willing to assume some degree of risk in order to avoid a true economic catastrophe.
Ultimately, I like the NBA's plan, and I appreciate the league's commitment to detail. But no one is immune. An impact player may contract the virus in the middle of the postseason. COVID-19 could still be the story of the 2020 playoffs.
From the NBA's health and safety protocols, I was initially intrigued by the anonymous hotline that will be made available to report individuals not following proper social distancing practices. Will players be encouraged to call the number and "snitch" on a teammate who is breaking the guidelines? Will a player have to miss a game due to disciplinary action? Teams “are required to report immediately to the league office any information regarding any potential or actual violation,” but it is yet to be seen how far others will go if a star player, for example, continuously violates protocol.
It will also be interesting to see if players choose to wear the optional rings and magicbands to keep track of health markers and location. I can understand players wanting more privacy, but if they are going to participate in the NBA's bubble experiment, then it makes sense to go all-in for the league to have the best chance at crowning a champion.
The NBA is providing a good amount of entertainment for the players in the lengthy bubble period, but it will truly be an experiment to see which teams stay mentally and physically prepared—and if the league can pull off making it to the end of the season.