In the past 48 hours, when the NBA world hasn’t been speculating on the fate of Ben Simmons, it has been talking about a couple of high-profile players in major markets who are not vaccinated — and it could cost them games and paychecks.
According to reports, neither Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors nor Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets are vaccinated, and both play in cities where there are vaccine mandates for anyone to enter large indoor spaces. Like basketball arenas. Meaning those players can’t practice or play in games when their teams are home.
However, they are the exceptions. Most players are vaccinated. Players union executive director Michele Roberts said the figure was 90% a couple of months ago, although the league privately said closer to 85%. That may have changed, however, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 23, 2021
If that percentage holds until final roster cuts, it means somewhere between 40-50 NBA players are unvaccinated. The good news is the NBA’s vaccination rate is well above the national average. The downside is that is enough players to cause some teams challenges with keeping players separated in meetings, in the locker room, while traveling, plus it would be an issue for games in San Francisco and New York.
The NBA will not have a vaccine mandate for players (although it does for team staff and referees), and at this point there will be no minds changed with facts, figures, and logic. So the NBA has gone the route of other businesses and governments and tried to change the calculus for players — it’s going to be much more inconvenient to be unvaccinated in the NBA this season. Daily testing, twice on game days, wearing a mask at all times at team facilities (except on the court during practice/games), one-week quarantine periods after being exposed to the virus (where the player cannot play or practice), being separated from teammates in the locker room and other team spaces, and much more.
But the big motivation is money.
The NBA sent a memo to teams that said if a player can’t play in a game “as a result of his inability to comply with local law might subject him to a reduction of his compensation by the NBA or his team,” reported Yaron Weitzman at FoxSports.com. Meaning, teams can try to take away game check from players who do not play in New York/San Francisco games because they are not vaccinated — which for both Wiggins and Irving is more than $300,000 a game. Weitzman said the threat of this was enough to get some holdouts to get the jab.
In reality, it’s unclear if teams can take away game checks in this case — this is unprecedented territory. The team would claim “failure to perform” (the CBA/legal term for not playing), but the player and agent could argue there is no league mandate on the vaccine, and the player is ready to play and does on the road, it’s just the local law that is the issue. Not the player.
The team still will have leverage just by holding back the money — the player would appeal the team’s fine and it would go to arbitration, as spelled out in the CBA. Except that takes at least six months, and likely close to nine months or a year. That’s a long time to wait for your cash.
The NBA is trying to get to the 99% vaccination rate of the WNBA, but there will be some holdouts. And it could get expensive for them.