Unlike the “stop play now” crowd on Twitter, Adam Silver and the NBA were not freaked out by the 16 players who tested positive for the coronavirus. Rather the opposite. The league feared the number would be higher and, as Silver added, “None of the 16 were seriously ill in any way. That was also a big relief for us.”
There are concerns among league officials and players about the record number of new coronavirus cases in Florida. Still, it would take a “significant spread” of COVID-19 in the NBA’s Orlando campus to stop play again, the NBA commissioner emphasized.
“Yes, the level of concern has increased, not just because of the increased levels in Florida but throughout the country…” Silver said during a conference call with reporters Friday. “We designed our [Orlando] campus, in essence, to isolate ourselves from whatever the level of cases are in our surrounding community.”
Put more directly, “We ultimately believe it will be safer on our campus than off it,” Silver said.
“But, this is not business as usual.”
Silver said players would be tested daily inside the bubble, “at least to start.” That level of testing was always going to be critical to maintaining the bubble the league wants to create.
One glaring weaknesses of the bubble is that the Walt Disney World employees who would be cooking the food, cleaning the rooms, and more around the NBA bubble will go home at night — back into a Florida where cases of the disease are spiking. The original plan called for Disney employees to get temperature checks and be monitored, but not tested.
That may be changing, the league is negotiating with Disney and the unions representing those workers to test the people who come in contact — “will be in the same room” — with players, Silver said.
The health of players was a large focus of the call with reporters, but players’ union president Chris Paul emphasized this wasn’t just physical health.
“Mental health is the thing a lot of [players] are thinking of first. We’re going into a tough situation…” Paul said of players being away from family, friends, their support systems and routines for an extended period of time (at least 35 days and up to three months.
“Mental health is real, and being in this situation, we’re going to be trying to come with any ideas to make sure that players are healthy in that aspect of their lives.”
Players are free to leave the Disney campus at any point, but if they return they are subject to quarantine guidelines before they can be around their fellow players or take part in games again.
Paul, Silver, and others also discussed the need for the league to provide ways for players to use the Orlando platform to promote Black Lives Matter and social justice causes.
“This is a platform, because of the game and the popularity of the game-and specifically, because of the popularity of the players — the world will be watching,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said.
“It’s never a shut up and dribble situation. You’re gonna continue to hear us,” Paul added.
Adam was quick to admit the Orlando restart was not an ideal situation, but that he did not want to stop play again. At one point he tried to spin the return saying, “We’re coming back because sports matter in our society. They bring people together when they need it the most.” That falls flat. This return is all about the money and everything else is a distant second.
Within that, both the league officials and players agreed everyone has done the best they can to build something that is safe for the players and league staff. It’s the best of a bad set of options.
“We ultimately believe it will be safer on our campus than off it…” Silver said.” My ultimate conclusion is we can’t outrun the virus, and we are going to be living with this for the foreseeable future… which is why we designed the campus the way we did.”
We will see if that campus design is good enough over the next couple of months.