The Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers have opened practice facilities for individual workouts, the first step in the NBA’s long journey from hiatus to competition in the face of COVID-19. Today ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne posted a long piece about the challenges of returning and the extended discussions NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts have engaged in over the matter.
Both the Player’s Union and the league would need to agree to stipulations and practices before games could resume. Though both sides are working together, Shelburne paints it as a daunting task.
“This is a world with the virus,” Roberts said. “And we have to figure out a way to work, play and live in a world with the virus.
“The questions have now evolved from, ‘Are we going to play again?’ to, ‘If we play, what are the risks going to look like?’”
Individual workouts may be a move towards the end goal, but the distance between one player drilling with a few coaches and full five-on-five action is long.
...individual, socially distanced workouts are a far cry from full-contact NBA basketball. And the mountain of safety and hygiene protocols teams have to follow just to allow players in to shoot in a mostly empty gym is daunting. For example:
Players will have to show up dressed for their workouts, because they won’t be allowed to use locker rooms. They won’t be allowed to shower afterward, either.
Each player will have his own basketball and be told to keep it for the duration of these individual workouts.
Only four player development coaches will be allowed in the facility at a time, and they’ll have to stay 12 feet away and wear masks and gloves.
There will be temperature checks for everyone and additional cardiac screenings when appropriate, but teams have been advised not to use test kits until they are more widely available to the general population.
All of these protocols have been developed in conjunction with public health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other infectious disease specialists, and discussed at length with owners and players.
Even should the workouts proceed apace for all 30 NBA teams, there’s no guarantee that the next steps will come soon. Silver and Roberts are responsible for the safety of all involved, plus the comfort of the players who will be risking contact with the virus by coming in contact with each other.
Roberts doesn’t have a good answer for a scenario in which a player simply doesn’t feel safe returning.
“That is the million-dollar question,” she said. “I’ve got to confront that. It’s an issue employers everywhere are going to have to confront. Because I guarantee there’s going to be at least one player, if not many more than that, that are going to have genuine concerns about their safety.
“We have to figure out what the response is to that. It’s a tough one, and I don’t pretend that I have an answer to that one yet.”
Shelburne’s story has far more to it, including the union’s reaction to the idea of playing games in an isolated “bubble” environment and Silver’s and Roberts’ cordial relationship with each other.