Vaccinations have been available to every Oregonian aged 16-and-older since mid-April, yet COVID-19 continues to surge statewide. In Multnomah County last week, home to Portland, the case rate topped 200 per 100,000 people and test positivity ballooned past five percent, more than doubling since March.
In response to the surge, Oregon Governor Kate Brown re-implemented on April 30 harsher restrictions on gatherings, moving 15 counties back to the level of "Extreme Risk." The measure means restaurants are exclusively limited to outdoor dining, while capacity for gyms and indoor entertainment venues – pertinent to the Trail Blazers – have been sharply cut.
There was a rumbling expectation over the back half of April that COVID-19 would see enough of a decline in Oregon and Multnomah County for some amount of fans to soon be allowed at Moda Center. All but two other NBA teams played in front of fans by the end of April, and the Chicago Bulls announced that United Center will be open to patrons on May 7. The only team to preemptively bar fans from home games for the duration of the season is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Damian Lillard, obviously, got his facts a bit wrong. But as more and more Oregonians receive the vaccine, he couldn't help but express frustration at the Blazers' opponents feeling a real semblance of home-court advantage while his team continues to play at an empty Moda Center.
C.J. McCollum didn't push back, instead chalking up Portland's backwards home and road records to the ongoing complications of COVID-19 restrictions.
The Los Angeles Lakers' Jared Dudley chimed in on Lillard's critique, too, directly raising the issue as one of competitive balance.
The Utah Jazz, by the way, raised the capacity at Vivint Smart Home Arena from 5,600 to 6,700 on May 1. There are no plans currently in place to increase that number for the postseason.
The unfortunate reality here is that competitive balance plays no factor whatsoever. The league's bottom line has always been money, and permitting fans back into some arenas as soon as state law allows helps drive revenue during a season in the red. Not that it's surprising, of course. The NBA was fully aware that a condensed, 72-game season would lead to further injury; now multiple contenders are dealing with significant health concerns as playoffs fast approach.
It's Governor Brown's obligation to protect Oregonians first and foremost. If the league had taken the same stance regarding player health this season, maybe it would have factored in the competitive advantage of most teams playing with fans while others don't, too.
But the dollar, ugly as it is, will always win in the NBA. For the sake of Oregon's greater good, it's crucial the same can't quite be said for Governor Brown.