The NBA has a COVID problem. Why can’t it see it?

The NBA has a COVID problem. Why can’t it see it?

The
2020-21
NBA
season,
without
the
protection
of
a
bubble,
has
been
an
experiment
in
the
consequences
and
limits
of
a
controlled
movement.
On
Tuesday,
the
NBA
and
NBPA
agreed
to

updated
COVID-19
protocols
after
an
increase
of
cases

and
postponed
games
following
the
holidays.
The
terms
had
only
been
redefined
for
hours
before

Oklahoma
City
Thunder
guard

George
Hill
pushed
back.

“I’m
a
grown
man.
I’m
gonna
do
what
I
want
to
do.
If
I
want
to
go
see
my
family,
I’m
going
to
go
see
my
family,”
Hill
said
after
a
loss
to
the

San
Antonio
Spurs.
“They
can’t
tell
me
I
have
to
stay
in
a
room
24/7.
If
it’s
that
serious,
then
maybe
we
shouldn’t
be
playing.
But
it’s
life,
no
one’s
going
to
be
able
to
just
cancel
their
whole
life
for
this
game.”

The
NBA’s
additional
health
and
safety
protocols

  • Players
    may
    no
    longer
    have
    non-team
    guests
    in
    hotel
    rooms

  • Teams
    may
    no
    longer
    leave
    hotels
    for
    non-team
    related
    activities

  • Players
    must
    wear
    masks
    in
    locker
    rooms
    and
    on
    the
    bench

  • At
    home,
    teams
    must
    stay
    in
    their
    homes
    outside
    of
    essential
    activities
    and
    emergencies

  • Physical
    therapy
    treatments
    must
    be
    conducted
    in
    open
    spaces
    with
    12
    feet
    between
    each
    individual
    station

  • The
    pregame
    locker
    room
    meeting
    cannot
    exceed
    10
    minutes

  • On
    team
    airplanes,
    players
    must
    be
    seated
    in
    accordance
    of
    who
    they
    were
    sitting
    near
    on
    the
    bench

  • Opposing
    teams
    can’t
    come
    into
    contact
    or
    mingle
    after
    the
    buzzer

The
last
two
rules
try
to
legislate
behavior
the
unconscious
mind
falls
into
even
when
the
conscious
mind
urges
it
not
to

infractions
we’re
all
attuned
to.
As
we’ve
adjusted
to
new
rules,
we’ve
become
familiar
with
the
distance
between
how
we
move
and
how
we
wish
we
moved.
Arms
reflexively
rise
to
shake
hands.
Masks
slip
under
noses.
They
get
peeled
off,
seemingly
automatically,
by
coaches
who
want
to
be
heard

and
they

want

to
be
heard.
You
may
be
able
to
stop
players
from
fist-bumping
in
front
of
cameras,
but
can
you
stop
them
from
jerking
up
and
grabbing
their
teammates
after
dunks
and
bad
calls?
I
have
my
questions,
and
it’s
hardly
the
most
important
one.

One
rule
that
didn’t
change:
the
NBA’s
contact
tracing
policy.

After
Boston
Celtics
wing

Jayson
Tatum
entered
the

league’s
health
and
safety
protocol,
Washington
Wizards
guard

Bradley
Beal
was
pulled
out
of
a
game
prior
to
tip-off
because
he
guarded
Tatum
and
spoke
with
him
afterward.

Players
must
wear
masks
in
locker
rooms
and
on
the
bench.
(Mitchell
Leff/Getty
Images)

Not
sidelined
due
to
contact
tracing?
Teammates
who
interacted
with
Beal
and
also
guarded
Tatum
at
times.
Confusion
also
arose
when
Memphis
Grizzlies
center
Jonas
Valanciunas
was
pulled
in
the
middle
of
a
game
but
his
matchup,
Nets
center
Jarrett
Allen,
was
not.

The
NBA
justifies
this,

according
to
The
Athletic,
by
using
“Second
Spectrum
player
tracking
data
to
establish
that
players,
on
average,
spend
no
more
than
five
or
six
minutes
within
six
feet
of
another
player
during
any
given
game.”
This
is
the
flimsy
needle
the
NBA
threads
to
thrust
forward
with
the
banality
of
a
machine.

I
wonder
if
anyone
really
believes
this,
or
if
they
just
know
there
aren’t
enough
degrees
of
separation
in
the
NBA
for
contact
tracing
to
be
both
earnest
and
prevent
rosters
from
crumbling
beyond
utility.

The
season
was
always
going
to
be
touch-and-go,
but
this
omission
gets
to
the
heart
of
why
today’s
rules
won’t
move
the
needle:
They’re
an
empty
attempt
at
refinement
that
ignores
the
most
pertinent
problem.

“We
wanna
play
the
game.
That’s
what
we
love
to
do,”
added
Hill.
“At
the
same
time,
maybe
we
should
reevaluate
what
we
are
doing.
I
just
don’t
understand
some
of
these
rules.
We
can
sweat
next
to
guys
for
48
minutes
but
can’t
talk
to
them
afterwards?
It
makes
no
sense.”

Is
it
safe
to
play
NBA
games
indoors?

Here’s
what
Timothy
Brewer,
professor
of
epidemiology
at
the
UCLA
Fielding
School
of
Public
Health,
said
about
basketball’s
potential
to
transmit
the
virus

when
I
spoke
with
him
last
May:

“[Players
are]
also
breathing
hard.
The
harder
you
breathe
the
more
likely
you
are
to
aerosolize
droplets.
Just
like
coughing
leads
to
more
droplets
than
talking,
breathing
hard
will
lead
to
more
droplets
being
produced
than
regular
breathing.

“A
basketball
game
typically
goes
on
for
over
an
hour
so
that
is
a
prolonged
period
where
people
are
going
to
be
in
close
contact
with
each
other.
That
would
create
a
higher
risk
for
transmissions
as
opposed
to
either
playing
outdoors
or
not
allowing
people
within
six
feet
of
each
other.”

The
CDC’s
guidelines
also
suggest
wearing
“a

mask
if
feasible,
especially
when
it
is
difficult
to
stay
less
than
6
feet
apart
from
other
people
and
especially
indoors,
for
example
in
close
contact
sports
such
as
basketball.”

The
risk
of
transmission
is
almost
inherent
to
the
sport.
Basketball
is
free-flowing,
teeming
with
possibilities.
Bigs
posting
up
against
guards,
guards
switched
onto
bigs,
limbs
entangled
in
a
messy
crunch
underneath
the
rim,
bodies
crashing
for
loose
balls,
a
pursuit
so
ravenous
that
everything
else
falls
away.
To
defend
is
to
make
someone
feel
you.
No
helmets.
No
pads.
No
outside
air.
Very
little
distance.
Basketball
is
intensely
personal.
To
the
participants,
to
the
viewers.
To
deny
the
risk
of
playing
basketball
is
to
deny
what
basketball
is.

The
truth
is
an
existential
threat
to
the
game.
Is
basketball
tenable
in
the
face
of
a
virus
that
has
taught
us
to
beware
of
intimate
interaction?
But
the
truths
we
don’t
want
to
face
are
often
a
gateway
to
unlikely,
maybe
rickety,
solutions

to
mitigation,
if
not
prevention.

First,
there’s
the
matter
of
playing
outside.
Now
that
the
NBA
is
no
longer
confined
to
the
infrastructure
of
Walt
Disney
World,
they
should
be
doing
this
yesterday.
The
United
States
is
filled
to
the
brim
with
legendary,
aesthetically
pleasing
courts.
Imagine
drone
shots
of
Rucker
Park
in
April
or
Santa
Monica
in
February.
Need
them
to
live
up
to
regulations?
Construct
some.
Let
them
live
as
a
community
hub
after
this
season,
the
rare
happy
relic
to
mark
a
chaotic
time.

The
league
should
also
seriously
consider
hiring
more
personnel
to
handle
logistics.

Here’s
how
ESPN’s
Baxter
Holmes
put
it
in
a
sobering
report
on
overworked
medical
trainers:
“Roles
that
have
been
largely
delegated
to
team
health
officials,
as
outlined
in
the
NBA’s
158-page
protocols,
include
testing
officer,
contact
tracing
officer,
facemask
enforcement
officer,
facility
hygiene
officer,
health
education
and
awareness
officer
and
travel
safety
officer,
among
others.”
Slippage
is
only
natural
when
people
are
overworked.

Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers guards Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the first half at Staples Center.
Kawhi
Leonard
had
to
wear
a
mask
earlier
this
NBA
season.
(Harry
How/Getty
Images)

Should
NBA
players
have
to
wear
masks
on
the
court?

On
Christmas,
Clippers
star
Kawhi
Leonard
got

his
teeth
knocked
out
against
the
Nuggets.
Five
days
later,
he
returned
in
a
protective
mask,
an
event
often
marked
by
goofy
ceremony.
The
memes,
masked
Kawhi
predictions,
Terminator
jokes.
A
few
times
a
year,
we’ll
watch
players
push
through
the
discomfort
of
this
armor
to
find
a
way
to
play
without
risking
their
safety.

Maybe
it’s
something
we
should
get
used
to.
High
school
players
in
North
Carolina
are
wearing
masks
during
games.
So
are

athletes
at
Boston
University.
The
general
takeaway
is
it
sucks,
then
you
get
used
to
it.

If
the
NBA
deems
masks
necessary,
I
don’t
doubt
that
a
tenable,
semi-comfortable
face-shield
could
be
engineered

an
innovation
that
could
benefit
athletes
at
all
levels.
It
would
be
unsightly,
but
what
isn’t
these
days?
Dissonance
is
how
we
live.

Humans
only
invent
when
they
have
to.
The
NBA’s
failure
to
rise
up
the
standard
it
set
with
the
bubble
strikes
me
as
a
familiar
affliction
of
lethargy.
Ten
months
after
the
season
shut
down,
after
everything
shut
down,
the
virus
has
worn
down
our
defenses,
our
expectations.

The
bubble
was
a
shocking
triumph
of
resourcefulness
and
creativity,
a
revelatory
example
of
competence
even
as
the
world
outside
fell
apart.
Its
ambition
was
fueled
by
the
pursuit
of
profit,
but
its
success
was
marked
by
discipline,
attention
and
care
at
a
time
when
accountability
and
safety
were
a
greater
public
demand.
At
the
time,
commissioner
Adam
Silver
was
heaped
with
credit
for
being
the
adult
in
the
room.
It’s
time
for
those
who
know
better
to
do
better.


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