Four NBA games in four days have been postponed, and the league reportedly is tightening its COVID-19 protocols as the virus starts to make a dent in the regular season.
The National Basketball Players Association announced Tuesday that at-home players and personnel must, outside of the occurrence of extraordinary circumstances, only leave their homes to go to the facility or arena, exercise outside or perform essential activities. Away-from-work interactions are limited to household members, family members and regular personal staff working out of the home.
Teams on the road are only to leave the hotel for team activities or emergencies, and guests are not allowed to visit. Teams have to create a plan for flights where players seated closest to one another on planes also must be the ones seated closest together on the benches during games.
There also will be stricter enforcement on mask-wearing of players and coaches on the benches, where masks must be worn at all times. Players exiting the game will have access to a “cool down” area that will feature chairs 12 feet apart where they can catch their breath without a mask.
Non-competitive interaction between on-court players will be limited, and even pregame locker-room team meetings will be limited to 10 minutes with masks.
All of these additional restrictions will be in place for at least two weeks. They come in the wake of the recent wave of postponements, with teams not having enough available players to take the floor.
This is the reality of attempting to play a professional sports season in the midst of a pandemic outside of a bubble like the NBA had last summer in Orlando. Teams are traveling and players are living at their homes with their family members. There will always be risks with that.
It doesn’t help matters when players such as James Harden and Kyrie Irving reportedly attend indoor gatherings outside of team activities, but Timberwolves forward Ed Davis noted even when you’re careful with protocols, you’re still susceptible to get the virus.
“You can do everything right and then your significant other can go to the grocery store and get it, and you sleep in the (same) bed and get it,” Davis said. “It’s just like a weird thing because when a guy gets it, some people get mad or they’re angry at the person, but they could’ve been doing all the right things. You’ve got some people being irresponsible. It’s just one of those things if someone gets it, just try to protect yourself and protect your family as much as possible. But like I said, sometimes you just can’t avoid it, it just happens.”
The Timberwolves have yet to experience a widespread outbreak within their locker room. D’Angelo Russell said the Timberwolves’ protocols have been “super strict” from Day One. He said Dr. Robby Sikka, the team’s vice president of basketball performance and technology, has relayed the importance of sticking to the protocols on a daily basis.
Sikka, who played a role in the development of a saliva-based COVID-19 test this summer, has maintained a sound understanding of the virus and how to best limit its spread.
Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders said he’s “very concerned” about the rising spread of the virus throughout the league. While basketball, he noted, has given so many people so much, “this is real life.”
“Taking the precautions and taking the protocol serious is one of those things. It’s one of those daily reminders of, even though we’re getting tested, even though we have all these safety protocols in place, we need to understand it’s a shared responsibility as a group and we need to continue to work to hold each other accountable,” Saunders said. “I think guys have done a good job. The organization has done a good job so far. But you can’t feel good about that. You gotta keep your guard up because it is concerning. We’ll continue to follow Commissioner (Adam) Silver’s protocols and all the medical advice we’re getting, not just within our organization, but around the league.”
Saunders has said availability is “very important” this season. And limiting COVID-19 spread plays a big part in that. But more important, Saunders said, is keeping everyone safe and healthy.
“When we’re on the road or when we’re not around the team is when we have to take into consideration for others,” Russell said. “Just have to try to continue to stick to protocol, control what we can control and do that.”