With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic set to be part of American life indefinitely, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s plan to return to play next month in a closed campus environment in Florida was the best option available to the league.
“We know that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future,” Silver said on a conference call Friday afternoon with several league officials.”And we are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus.
“No options are risk-free right now.”
National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, NBPA president Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat forward Andre Iguodala also were on the conference call.
Silver was asked about two significant obstacles that the league must overcome — the rapid rise of coronavirus cases in Florida, and the possibility of an infection getting into the bubble environment itself — in its attempt to pull off its 22-team restart at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
“My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus, and that this is what we’re gonna be living with for the foreseeable future — which is why we designed the campus the way we did,” Silver said. “And so it’s a closed network; and while it’s not impermeable, we are in essence protected from cases around us. At least, that’s the model.
“So for those reasons, we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.”
The league and the union officially agreed to proceed with the restart plan earlier Friday.
Silver admitted the daily case count in Florida — which neared 9,000 in the totals announced Friday — was something he is worried about. But, he added, the precautions the league is putting into place are meant to prevent that from impacting what the league is trying to do.
“The answer is yes, the level of concern has increased — not just because of the increased levels in Florida, but throughout the country,” Silver said. “At least today, I believe, 29 of the 50 states have an increased number of cases. Of course, we designed our campus, in essence, to isolate ourselves from whatever the level of cases was in the surrounding community.
“But since we designed our initial protocol, we are continuing to work with Disney on the testing of at least a subset of their employees that could potentially be in the same room as our players, and anyone else who’s tested daily on our campus. So we are satisfied that, once we work through those additional measures with Disney, we will continue to have a safe setting for us to resume our season.”
As for what happens when a player tests positive for the virus, Silver was asked specifically what the NBA would do in a scenario in which a superstar player tests positive — which would, at a minimum, require them to refrain from exercising from two weeks, automatically ruling them out for at least an entire round of the playoffs.
“We haven’t worked through every scenario,” Silver said. “But the notion would be that if we had a single player test positive, frankly, whether that player was an All-Star or a journeyman, that player would then go into quarantine. We would then be tracking any players or other personnel that that player had been in contact with, and even potentially supplement the daily testing just to ensure that others have not been contaminated.
“But then we would continue. That team would be down a man, and we would treat that positive test as we would an injury during the season. And so we would not delay the continuation of the playoffs.”
Silver went on to say, however, that the larger question left unasked — what will the league do if there is a larger spread of the virus within the campus beyond a single player, or even a couple of them — is one he still doesn’t have a firm answer to.
“If we were to have significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping,” Silver said. “But we’re working closely with the Players’ Association, with Disney, and with public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be. And it hasn’t been precisely designed. I think we want to get down on the ground and start to see how our testing’s working and how the protocols are working and then we’ll make decisions as we go.”
There were also several questions asked about the ongoing protests over social justice and racial inequality in the country — protests that have been participated in by many NBA players. Paul made it clear it will remain a front-and-center topic of conversation in Orlando.
You’re going to continue to hear us,” Paul said. “This isn’t a ‘shut up and dribble’ situation.”
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