As the NBA gets closer and closer to resuming the 2019-20 season at Disney World — most recently releasing the schedules for the Lakers and the other 21 teams traveling to Orlando — a common dismissal of anyone questioning the safety of the league’s plan to return has been that NBA players are young and in peak physical condition, and will in all likelihood be fine even if they do contract the coronavirus.
While such rebuttals ignore the safety of coaches or other team and league staff who may not be in quite such near-superhuman physical shape, it also may not apply to all NBA players, either. Lakers center JaVale McGee, for example, has asthma, which the CDC recently added to the list of comorbidities that might belong on its list of risk factors that can lead to more severe complications from the coronavirus.
For his part, though, McGee has made it clear he’s not that worried about it. A few weeks ago, he was one of the few players to go on record about their reticence to commit to the restrictions the league would be putting them under in Orlando, calling the rules “concerning.”
In a more recent interview with Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times, he said he’s confident that the NBA won’t be putting him or others at risk by resuming the season:
McGee said he was not one of the two Lakers who tested positive — their identities remain unknown — and the incident didn’t scare him. He said he has not tried to dramatically change his lifestyle during the pandemic because he was a homebody anyway.
He never had qualms about returning to play in Florida when the NBA resumes the season with games beginning July 30.
“I’m definitely comfortable,” McGee said. “We’ve been away for a while now and we’ve been COVID-free for this long. I definitely think we’ll be OK as long as we take the necessary precautions.”
We don’t know if McGee or any other Lakers tested positive when the team tested the entire roster earlier this week, but we do know that when they did their initial tests right after the season shut down that two players on the roster did have the coronavirus. In addition to both McGee (now) and his sister (at the time) saying he is was not one of them them, it was also reported that Quinn Cook tested negative. Jared Dudley also went on the radio back then and said that he also did not test positive. As Woike noted, it is still not publicly known which players did test positive in March.
McGee being comfortable, despite a potential risk factor, is the latest indicator that players don’t seem to be incredibly concerned about their safety while in the Orlando bubble. That noted, Woike reported that the decision may not be entirely in McGee’s hands:
According to people with knowledge of the situation and the NBA’s health and safety manual that The Times reviewed, Lakers doctors could “protect” McGee and any other players they deem to be at high risk. A week ago, players had to complete a three-page medical questionnaire and team doctors must evaluate them by Thursday.
Among the questions for players and traveling staff was whether or not the person has or had suffered from moderate to severe asthma.
Still, it is hard to imagine any NBA team ruling out a player that wants to go to Disney World and play if they say they aren’t worried about their safety. Coronavirus may make that tendency to defer to players in normal times a little different, but it’s still difficult to see given that asthma has not yet been conclusively proven to be a risk factor (even if there is evidently enough data to say it might be).
With all that noted, it’s probably safe to assume that McGee will not be joining Avery Bradley in sitting out of the resumed season, although he — and every other player in the league — still have until July 1 to let their teams know if they’re comfortable going to Orlando or not. However, if players do sit out, it feels safer to guess that it will be for social justice reasons, injury/contractual concerns, or reasons related to their family, given that to this point those are the reasons that players who are electing to sit out have given.
Players ruled out for risk factors by their teams can be replaced, while players who miss the tournament with injuries cannot be replaced, but will be paid. However, if players choose to sit out like Bradley did, their teams don’t have to pay them but can bring in a replacement to take their spot for the rest of the season after rosters are finalized on July 1.