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Florida sees rapid rise in coronavirus cases as NBA prepares to arrive

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The rate of positive coronavirus tests in the Orlando, Florida, area has been soaring in recent days.

The NBA hopes that doesn’t matter.

After spending weeks on putting together an incredibly elaborate series of health and safety protocols — the word “testing” appears 282 times in the document — the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association believe they have done what is necessary to keep the 22 teams and others who will be part of the season restart at the Disney campus near Orlando next month safe and healthy.

Ready or not, basketball is almost back.

“No one is suggesting that this is going to be an infection-free, guaranteed environment,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told The Associated Press. “I guess, unless we go to … well, where would we go? What state has the lowest rate? There’s just no way of finding a sterile environment probably on this planet, but certainly, not in this country.”

Among the details that were included in the protocols released to teams Tuesday night: players will be invited to wear what the league calls a “proximity alarm” that will set off an audio alert when the person is within six feet of another person for more than five seconds and therefore not following social distancing guidelines, plus they can choose to wear a ring that will generate “a wellness assessment derived from metrics such as body temperature and respiratory and heart rate.”

Players and staff will also be given thermometers and a pulse oximeter so they can track their data and record it on the league’s daily health platform.

“I am optimistic about the NBA’s return to play policies and procedures,” Denver coach Michael Malone, who found out last month that he had already beaten COVID-19 after an antibody test showed he had the virus. “They are going to do whatever it takes to make this the safest environment as possible. There are no guarantees and there will be a risk, but I feel confident in the measures to be taken pre-Orlando and once in Orlando.”

True, there will be a risk.

And the league acknowledges that no plan can be perfect.

“These Protocols are designed to promote prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce exposure to, and transmission of, the coronavirus,” the league said. “However, it is possible that staff, players, or other participants in the resumption of the 2019-20 season nonetheless may test positive or contract the coronavirus.”

But by following strict rules – including regular testing, no leaving the Disney campus without returning to quarantine, no unauthorized guests, no family members even being permitted to arrive until late August and, though this didn’t likely have to be said, no spitting on the court – the NBA and the NBPA hope the risk is minimal as teams prepare for a Disney stay that could exceed three months for the teams that make the NBA Finals.

“It’ll still probably bother everybody that we’re not home,” Miami center Bam Adebayo said. “But at the end of the day, we’ll be happy to play basketball.”

The NBA’s arrival at Disney is looming as the rate of positive tests around the state are rising, and officials such as Gov. Ron DeSantis are facing criticism for re-opening many parts of the state’s economy. But if NBA players aren’t venturing out among the public, the hope is that no matter what’s going on beyond Disney’s fences that the quasi-bubble for basketball won’t be affected.

The rate of positive tests in the Orlando area in the seven-day period ending Monday was nearly 6%. For the seven days immediately preceding that, it was 2.4% – meaning the rate has more than doubled in a one-week span.

“It’s concerning but not surprising,” Roberts said. “I’ve watched this governor behave as if the virus is an inconvenience as opposed to a virus. So, I guess watching the way the state is adhering or not adhering to CDC guidelines, it’s not surprising that these numbers would go up.”

DeSantis has said Florida’s rising numbers reflects more testing and other factors, though the percentage of positive tests is also significantly higher than was the case just a couple of weeks ago across the state and in the Orlando area.

“My solace is that our guys are not going to be out and about in the city of Orlando,” Roberts said. “The players will be flown in non-commercial, and they will essentially be on campus for the entirety of their stay until such time as their season ends.”

Jazz forward Joe Ingles joins Grizzlies huddle, drapes arms over Memphis players (video)

Jazz forward Joe Ingles vs. Grizzlies
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Jazz forward Joe Ingles has no boundaries with huddles.

Ingles invaded the Grizzlies huddle today, even putting his arms around – and some weight on – Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen. Gorgui Dieng appeared to notice the intruder just before the video cut away:

Beyond the hijinks, Ingles also scored 25 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – to lead Utah to a 124-115 win.

NBA owners pledge $300M for empowering Black community

NBA Black Lives Matter
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The NBA put “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the court and social-justice messages on jerseys. These are visible symbols that can draw attention to the fight for racial justice.

But NBA owners have the power to do more than make symbolic gestures.

NBA owners will do more.

NBA release:

The NBA Board of Governors announced today that it will contribute $300 million in initial funding to establish the first-ever NBA Foundation dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community.  The Foundation is being launched in partnership with the National Basketball Players Association.

Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team owners will collectively contribute $30 million annually to establish a new, leaguewide charitable foundation.  Through its mission to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement, the NBA Foundation will seek to increase access and support for high school, college-aged and career-ready Black men and women, and assist national and local organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development in NBA markets and communities across the United States and Canada.  As a public charity, the Foundation will also aim to work strategically with marketing and media partners to develop additional programming and funding sources that deepen the NBA family’s commitment to racial equality and social justice.

The Foundation will focus on three critical employment transition points: obtaining a first job, securing employment following high school or college, and career advancement once employed.  Through contributions, the NBA Foundation will enhance and grow the work of national and local organizations dedicated to education and employment, including through investment in youth employment and internship programs, STEM fields, job shadows and apprenticeships, development pathways outside of traditional higher education, career placement, professional mentorship, networking and specific partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“On behalf of the NBA Board of Governors, I am thrilled to announce the creation of the NBA Foundation,” said NBA Board of Governors Chairman and Toronto Raptors Governor Larry Tanenbaum.  “All NBA team governors recognize our unique position to effect change and we are committed to supporting and empowering young Black men and women in each of our team markets as well as communities across the U.S. and Canada.”

“The creation of this foundation is an important step in developing more opportunities for the Black community,” said NBPA President Chris Paul.  “I am proud of our league and our players for their commitment to this long-term fight for equality and justice, and I know we will continue to find ways to keep pushing for meaningful institutional change.”

The Foundation will work directly with all 30 teams, their affiliated charitable organizations and the NBPA to support national organizations and their local affiliates as well as local grassroots organizations to facilitate sustainable programming and create change in team markets.

“Given the resources and incredible platform of the NBA, we have the power to ideate, implement and support substantive policies that reflect the core principles of equality and justice we embrace,” said NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts.  “This Foundation will provide a framework for us to stay committed and accountable to these principles.”

“We are dedicated to using the collective resources of the 30 teams, the players and the league to drive meaningful economic opportunities for Black Americans,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “We believe that through focused programs in our team markets and nationally, together with clear and specific performance measures, we can advance our shared goals of creating substantial economic mobility within the Black community.”

The 30 NBA teams will be members of the NBA Foundation with its eight Board of Directors comprised of representatives from the NBA Board of Governors (four board seats), players and executives from the NBPA (three board seats) and the league office (one board seat).  The Foundation’s board will oversee all business affairs and provide strategic direction with respect to programming and grantmaking.

This is great.

Trail Blazers reportedly tried recently to get Trevor Ariza to join them in bubble

Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza
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Trevor Ariza opted-out of playing for Portland in the NBA’s restart so he could spend time with his son. Due to a custody case, he had a limited window to visit and he chose family over basketball.

However, as his custody window shifted and Portland started to look at a deeper playoff run — and maybe a matchup with the Lakers in the first round — some Trail Blazers players tried to get Ariza to come to the bubble after all. If Zion Williamson and others could leave the bubble for family emergencies, why couldn’t Ariza be let in, the players asked?

That plan didn’t work out, reports Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports.

But because his visitation period had been amended with a conclusion date now near the start of August, there was some optimism among the players that Ariza might be allowed into the bubble to further strengthen their chances of a deep playoff run. If the Trail Blazers were to snag the final playoff spot, they would face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round and a pesky Ariza would have been useful guarding James.

The possibility was explored, but sources said the Trail Blazers had to have previously applied for a hardship waiver or a late-arrival form for Ariza to be considered for entry into the bubble. Even if those steps were taken, the league would have likely denied the request because Ariza chose to opt out, wasn’t included on the restart roster, and didn’t arrive with his team on July 9.

The league put together strict rules about who could and couldn’t be inside the bubble — rules agreed to by the players’ union. Those rules are working at keeping the virus out. The league was not going to bend the rules for Portland now.

Ariza chose time with his son and wanted it bad enough to give up between $1.1 million and $1.8 million in salary (depending on how far the Trail Blazers got). Nobody should knock that choice; it was his to make, and picking family is never the wrong option.

Ariza is under contract for $12.8 million with Portland next season, but only $1.8 million of that salary guaranteed next season. If Portland wants to reduce payroll, they can buy Ariza out and make him a free agent at age 35. There would be suitors, Ariza has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

That glue just can’t help Portland this season.

No positive COVID-19 tests from 343 players in NBA bubble last week

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As has happened the past few weeks, Wednesday the NBA and NBPA announced that there were no positive tests among the 343 players tested for COVID-19 in the past week at the league’s restart campus in Orlando.

The NBA has had no positive tests from players inside the bubble.

The NBA’s plan for a restart began with testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again. The goal was to keep the virus outside of the bubble.

That has worked through one week of games.

The league did send a memo to teams reminding them players and staff need to wear a mask while on the NBA campus (when they were not practicing or playing games). The goal is to contain any outbreak, should the virus get into the bubble. That outbreak has yet to happen.

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining on the NBA campus, family members will arrive next month, and there are still other ways the virus could penetrate the bubble. The league isn’t celebrating victory yet.

But so far, so good.