Just a couple of days ago, on March 11th, the whole world reflected on the one-year anniversary of our lives being forever changed. It all seemingly started when Tom Hanks and his wife revealed that they had tested positive for COVID-19 while on a trip to Australia. That same night, the NBA announced that Rudy Gobert was the first player in the league to contract the virus. This was just days after he touched a bunch of media microphones as an attempt at a bad joke. With celebrities catching the virus, panic mode was initiated, and every single sports league around the world shut down as they sought to figure out the proper course(s) of action.
With Gobert’s positive test, the NBA immediately put the season on hiatus, just a few weeks before the playoffs were supposed to begin. For the next four months, the NBA carefully calculated what they would do next. In the end, they decided to bring 22 teams to Orlando, Florida, where they would get to stay on the Disney Campus, and play out the rest of the regular season, while also getting in a full playoff tournament. While in the bubble, the rules were incredibly strict. If players did anything that put their team in jeopardy, they would be recommended to go into two-week quarantines and even receive some fines. With the bubble in place, not a single player tested positive for the virus in Orlando, and the playoffs went on without a hitch. By October, a champion was crowned and the NBA looked like the biggest geniuses on the planet.
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However, these last few months have seen the NBA fall out of favor. To be fair, leagues like the NFL have also had their own share of problems, although some of the decisions made by the NBA have been curious, to say the least. When the league began in December, Adam Silver made it clear to the players that there would be no bubble. Instead, teams would travel as per usual, although the schedule would be tailored to limit any team’s possible exposure. For instance, if a Western Conference team goes out East, they will stay there for a while as they play as many teams on that coast as possible. COVID-19 protocols would still be in place, meaning players would need to be tested every single day and if they came into contact with someone who contracted the virus, they would need to sit out for a 10-day period.
All of this sounds great on paper, but so far, the rules have been so all over the place, that the NBA has struggled to maintain real consistency throughout the year. Case in point, players continue to test positive for the virus, and it has led to the cancelation of numerous games. According to the NBA’s own website, 31 games have been postponed this season, and some teams have been affected more than others. A great example of this is the Toronto Raptors, who had a game postponed on February 28th after their coaching staff reportedly broke mask protocols.
These protocols have also been applied in some suspicious ways. Perhaps the best example of this is when Kevin Durant was told he needed to sit out a Nets game after a close contact tested positive. Eventually, Durant was cleared to play as the contact underwent a second test. When that second test was confirmed positive, Durant was pulled from the game in the second half, which led to a lot of frustration and confusion. After the game, Durant was extremely annoyed, and rightfully so. In the end, the league should have forced him to sit out entirely, instead of allowing him to play during some imaginary limbo period, that did nothing but his teammates and opponents at risk.
Various players have been critical of the NBA’s insistence on carrying through with the season despite all of the positive tests and bizarre circumstances. With all of the positive tests that took place during the month of January, the league could have easily suspended the season for a few weeks and come up with a way to make the teams safer. Perhaps a regional bubble could have been a compromise, with teams only playing against squads that are in their immediate vicinity. However, the NBA refused to do this, and instead, decided to double down on their current course of action.
The most egregious offense committed by the league was when they went through with the All-Star Game last weekend. As many of you know, the All-Star Game brings various players from around the league into one city, where they play against each other in a fun exhibition match. With COVID-19 going around, this added travel was not necessary, and just a couple of days into the Atlanta experience, the league had to deal with a COVID-related controversy. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were supposed to take part in the game but after a visit with their barber, who later tested positive for the Coronavirus, the two Sixers stars were ousted from the All-Star Game, which ultimately cheapened the whole event. Not to mention, this put players at risk, even if there was a strict quarantine in place.
Prior to the All-Star Game, various players throughout the league were adamant about just how shortsighted having the game was. LeBron James was at the forefront of the movement, with other players calling the All-Star Game a cash grab. This, of course, is the problem. The NBA lost a lot of money during the shutdown in 2020 and now, they are looking to recoup their losses. This is understandable, however, putting players’ lives at risk simply isn’t worth the monetary gain. Guys like Karl-Anthony Towns have lost numerous family members to the virus, and other players have experienced similar tragedies. With this in mind, the NBA should be much more careful with how they treat this pandemic because despite the reduction in cases, we’re still not out of the woods.
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Moving forward, the NBA also hopes to see more fans in the arenas, as vaccines are being administered through out the world. While this could certainly be a positive thing, it remains to be seen how safe this will truly be. Once again, this is the NBA looking to get their money back, and hopefully, the league will learn from the mistakes it made over the past few months, and do everything to make sure that fans, players, and staff will remain in good hands. However, if the NBA continues to make profit their priority, they could find themselves back at square one, and absolutely no one wants that, especially after the trauma of the last year.