The NBA has felt a little bit on shaky ground with its season and COVID-19. MLB was in a similar situation last season when Marlins and Cardinals players were testing positive in droves and there were calls to suspend the season and/or put it in a bubble. While 14 NBA games have been postponed so far this season, the league has been pretty resolute in its opposition to suspending the season or returning to a bubble.
“In terms of what it would take to suspend a season, the only issue that these officials mentioned was a scenario in which it was found that players were transmitting the virus to one another during games,” Baxter Holmes reports for ESPN. “But the NBA has yet to find evidence of such a scenario, league sources say.”
On a December 30th call, NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that January was going to be the “darkest days” for the league in pushing through the pandemic, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. Last week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim Bontemps reported that the NBA was implementing stricter protocols, like wearing masks on the bench, better spacing on team flights, and restrictions about leaving hotels on the road.
While the news that the NBA has not seen evidence of on-court spread may be surprising, it does square with what the NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills told SI’s Albert Breer in November: “We have seen zero evidence of transmission player-to-player on the field, either during games or practices, which I think is an important and powerful statement,” Dr. Sills said. “And it also confirms what other sports leagues have found around the world. We regularly communicate with World Rugby, Australian rules football, European soccer leagues. To date, no one has documented a case of player-to-player transmission in a field sporting environment. Obviously, I don’t think we’re at the point where we’d say it cannot occur, but none of us have seen yet, and that’s certainly encouraging.”
However, one obvious difference between the NBA and the sports competitions analyzed by Dr. Sills is that the NBA is played indoors, whereas Dr. Sills was referring to outdoor sports.
Even if the season were put on pause, I find it hard to believe that players would use that time to quarantine. We’ve seen James Harden and Kyrie Irving out and about now, when doing so potentially compromises their ability to play. Do we really think that players would stay home if the season were on pause? Hopefully, we reach a point in the next month or two where vaccine distribution really ramps up, and the NBA as well as the rest of us can proceed with a life that returns back to normal.