Flip. Flop. Pop.
The NBA informed teams in a memo Saturday that coronavirus testing for players and staff taking part in the league’s restart will begin June 23 and take place every other day.
The memo, which was obtained by ESPN, says players and “essential team staff” — any coaches, trainers or medical personnel who will be working with players directly, or will be part of the travel party to Orlando, Florida — will be administered both a COVID-19 test and an antibody test on June 23.
Each person will then be administered another COVID-19 test every other day, as well as the two days directly before the team leaves for Walt Disney World. All teams are currently scheduled to arrive at Walt Disney World between July 7 and July 9.
The memo doesn’t say what type of testing the league will use, but sources told ESPN’s Zach Lowe that it is a less invasive nasal swab, and possibly much less invasive than the one that has been common so far.
Q: Ira, the entire world has been affected by this pandemic and all of us are trying to get used to this new “normal” in our lives. Therefore, if this year’s champions are fated to carry an asterisk, it should be to denote how much more difficult it was to reach the top. Moreover, Orlando could be a test run for some, if not most, of the 2020-21. — Gabriel, Miami.
A: Plenty has been mentioned about an asterisk, including in this space. Ultimately, that asterisk, if needed or justified, will be a matter of circumstance. If a team or a leading man is removed from competition, particularly in the playoffs, due to COVID-19, then how could it not be considered somewhat tainted? Remove Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard from the equation and it simply is not the typical level playoff playing field. Yes, players have been lost during the playoffs before, including Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson during last year’s NBA Finals. But that was game-related, not an invisible virus that the league goes into this well aware of its potential impact.
Q: So if Dwyane Wade is such an icon of Heat basketball, then why does he only train with star-level players? On top of that, Ben Simmons is likely the Heat playoff matchup on the very near horizon. How much better could Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson be, not to mention Gabe Vincent? It’s exactly this type of image that keeps me from supporting a monument of Wade at AAA. — Skip, Tampa.
A: Such are the perks of retirement, that you can do what you want, when you want, with who you want. Dwyane Wade is not a Heat employee, but he is an NBA icon free to associate with the players he chooses. And even if he still was on the Heat payroll, the NBA has changed in recent years, with players often working out and tutoring rivals. That certainly was the case when Dwyane still was under contract to the Heat. Friendship does not come by franchise, it comes by relationships. I am sure, that if a Heat player contacted Dwyane for guidance, he would offer whatever was requested. But it’s not as if he is under obligation to consider how helping another player could impact competition against the Heat. The league simply does not work that way anymore. Instead, it is about maximizing the entire talent pool, to therefore maximize the overall product. And if Micky Arison and Pat Riley and Miami-Dade want a statue of Wade alongside AmericanAirlines Arena, then there will be a monument.
I was with an ex-boyfriend once who is black. This was back in college, at UConn. We were on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was driving, I was in the passenger seat, and one of his teammates who is African-American was in the back. Well, we got pulled over. The policeman came right over to the passenger’s side, looked in and said, “Is everything OK?” and when he did that it felt like he was talking just to me. Then he asked for the IDs of the guys I was with, but not mine. And to the whole car he said, “Where are you guys going?”
We were thrown off, because we hadn’t been speeding or doing anything but regular driving, and we asked the officer why we’d been pulled over. The answer was, “Oh, you were following a car too closely.”
Following a car too closely? No way. This is an instance I’ve experienced firsthand, that taught me how people are judged differently. If it were two white guys and me, no way we get pulled over.
The memory is still in the forefront of my mind, and it still makes me mad.
It’s extremely important for white athletes to speak out for racial justice. Black people and the black community have been fighting this for years. To help make real change, white people need to be involved. White people need to stand up and support black communities in all ways, and have it be something that happens not just now, during this period of protest, but an ongoing battle. We’ll have to maintain energy and continue to speak out, continue to focus on something other than ourselves. It’s a must.
That sentiment positioned Irving against his former teammate LeBron James and other influential stars on title contenders who have supported the NBA’s restart proposal. Players who are uncomfortable reporting to Disney won’t be paid for missing games, but they have been assured there won’t be long-term repercussions. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and union president Chris Paul have said that most players are in favor of finishing the season, and people around the league expect to proceed with the Orlando proposal. But they acknowledge that plans could unravel in this convulsive moment of change across the nation.
It’s unclear what the union’s next steps will be—and how many players will share Irving’s opinion.
But it’s clear the national demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death have become a factor in NBA players deciding how soon is too soon to resume the season. Some fear they wouldn’t be able to support the Black Lives Matter movement if they can’t join the protests against police brutality and racial inequality. Others feel that playing again would provide them with a megaphone to promote their message.
Their debate is happening in public as much as it’s unfolding in private Zoom calls. Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers, for example, chose the Instagram comments section to respond to Irving. “We can do both. We can play and we can help change the way black lives are lived,” Rivers wrote. “But canceling or boycotting return doesn’t do that in my opinion.”
The consequences of not reaching a deal would be devastating. The players would lose more than $1 billion and power as the owners shred the collective bargaining agreement. The league would lose even more revenue as it was already bracing for the financial blows from the extended shutdown and its showdown with China. The fans would lose months of basketball in a time of societal upheaval.
While players naturally have concerns about the basics of the NBA’s plan, from the health and safety protocols to the stress of being away from their families for months, they are more troubled by the economic implications of ending the season and entering a labor war.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for caving to Donald Trump in the past on the issue of player protests during the national anthem.
“A smart man is running the NFL and he didn’t understand the difference between the flag and what makes the country great — all the people who fought to allow [Colin] Kaepernick to have the right to kneel for justice,” Popovich told The New York Times in a column by Maureen Dowd posted Saturday. “The flag is irrelevant. It’s just a symbol that people glom onto for political reasons …”
He added that Goodell “got intimidated when Trump jumped on the kneeling [and] he folded.”
Popovich has been an outspoken critic of the president and has been vocal in condemning racial injustice in the United States following the death of George Floyd in police custody last month. Earlier this month, Popovich said the “country is in trouble” in a video released by the Spurs.
He also took aim at the seven NFL owners who donated $1 million each to Trump’s inaugural campaign in 2016.
“It’s just hypocritical,” he told the newspaper. “It’s incongruent. It doesn’t make sense. People aren’t blind. Do you go to your staff and your players and talk about injustices and democracy and how to protest? I don’t get it. I think they put themselves in a position that’s untenable.”
With each passing day, more details are coming to light on the NBA’s return. Re-seeding games, the “Delete Eight”, roster sizes, health & safety protocol, and so much more. Typically, this would take over the basketball twitterverse. However, the current climate is unlike anything the world has seen. How can one think about basketball — even those that play of a living — when police brutality, racism, and protests are happening throughout the world? Oh, and COVID-19 numbers are still increasing in Orlando!
The idea of a play-in format seems gimmicky. But would it have been fair to jump straight into the playoffs when teams were robbed of an easier end-of-season schedule (i.e. Pelicans)? There’s also greater risk in bringing all 30 teams and increasing the possibility of getting COVID-19. So, how do you bring the NBA back without alienating at least one fan base? You can’t. Nobody was going to be happy with the solution. Even if the season is outright cancelled, many will be disappointed or upset.
After Friday’s NBA players’ group call revealed just how adamant a faction of the league is against resuming the season in Orlando, Florida, next month, members of the Los Angeles Lakers insist that ample time remains to get their team on the same page.
“[There’s] no divide,” one Lakers player told ESPN.
“Still have some time to figure things out as a league and as a team,” another Lakers player told ESPN.
Among the dissenting voices on the call that featured nearly 100 players were Lakers backup center Dwight Howard and starting shooting guard Avery Bradley, sources told ESPN. Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving was a driving influence on the call.
The Lakers were initially concerned that Howard planned to sit out the rest of the season to focus on the social injustices facing black people in the United States based on the sentiments he shared on the call and the subsequent statement he issued, sources told ESPN.
Howard’s agent, Charles Briscoe, told ESPN on Sunday that his client hasn’t made a decision about playing basketball again this season because basketball is the furthest thing from his mind at this moment.
“The statement was about social injustice and racism,” Briscoe said. “Yet everybody is still talking about whether basketball should be played. He isn’t saying that basketball shouldn’t be. He’s just saying that you should not be taking attention away from what’s going on in the country to talk about basketball. Basketball is just a sport, at the end of the day. But what’s going on with people dying in the streets, that’s something real. That statement, it had nothing to do with sports. It had everything to do with racism and social injustice.”