Pro Basketball Is Returning To Florida As The Coronavirus Surges

The New York Knicks and Washington Wizards squared off on March 10, 2020 the day before the NBA suspended its season because of the coronavirus.
The New York Knicks and Washington Wizards squared off on March 10, 2020 the day before the NBA suspended its season because of the coronavirus.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Ready or not, the NBA restart is a go.

It appears the league is as ready as it can be to play three months of basketball inside a protective bubble near Orlando, Fla. while on the outside, coronavirus cases currently soar.

Whether it's a success – at this point all one can do is dust off the oldest of clichés.

Time will tell.

The NBA and its players union, the National Basketball Players Association, announced Friday they've finalized a comprehensive plan for 22 teams to arrive around July 7th and start playing games that count, on July 30th. Everyone will live and play on a "campus" at Walt Disney World Resort. Games will take place in three separate arenas without fans in attendance.

The NBA and NBPA have agreed on a comprehensive set of health and safety measures to try to keep players and all NBA staff as safe as possible in the midst of the pandemic. The hundred-plus page protocol covers every possible aspect of a protected life in the bubble, while acknowledging that protection might not be perfect.

"It's possible that staff, players, or other participants may test positive or contract the coronavirus," the document reads. "The occurrence of a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption of the 2019-20 season."

Key phrase there, obviously – "small or otherwise expected."

Judging by a first round of mandatory testing, in advance of the restart, the situation so far seems manageable. Sixteen NBA players tested positive out of 302 screened on Tuesday.

Once inside the Florida bubble, some within the league believe the numbers will be even lower.

"I think the precautions the NBA is taking to enhance the safety of the bubble participants are nothing short of extraordinary," an unnamed team general manager told The Athletic in an anonymous poll of GM's. "Once [everyone is] on campus, I think [people within the league] will appreciate the NBA's work on this."

Others aren't as certain.

"If the cases keep spiking in Florida, things are going to happen," another GM said. "I'm really, really concerned for the league big-picture wise in many, many ways."

Some players have expressed concerns about the resort staff members, including housekeepers, who won't live in the bubble and won't be tested.

"Everything that we know about Disney, and we've read over the years, " a team athletic trainer told ESPN, "is that you don't realize how many thousands of people work there, right? That's the magic behind it all – the amount of staff and the amount of services that they provide. And they're in and out of the bubble."

In response to concerns, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said if necessary, the union and the NBA will try to put more restrictions on "third parties" getting access to the bubble.

The health and safety protocol requires Disney staff members to wear masks and maintain social distancing if they're in the same area with NBA personnel. Housekeepers will clean rooms when players and NBA staff aren't there.

Another element of Friday's finalized agreement isn't pandemic-related but just as crucial to many players. It's a plan for taking collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice.

Since the police killing of George Floyd in late May, many players have gotten directly involved in protesting and speaking out on social issues. Some players believe the Florida restart could detract and distract from efforts at social reform.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the restart will provide a platform to address social justice issues.

The NBA and NBPA reportedly have discussed plans for more Black representation around the league, involvement of more Black-owned and operated businesses, and a foundation that would increase educational and economic development opportunities in Black communities.

The NBA has been the most progressive of all the major pro sports leagues in this country. But as with the comprehensive health and safety protocol, all are waiting to see if the social reform agenda also proves to be more than a grand plan.

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