The NBA and NBPA may have tentatively agreed to re-start the season in Orlando on July 31, but before the Lakers and the rest of the league can hit the floor, the NBA and the players’ union still have to negotiate a few details.
Arguably chief among the things that need to be ironed out is how strict the quarantine protocols at Disney World are going to be. Early indications from the players were that the league’s “bubble” wouldn’t actually be all that restrictive, with Lakers forward Jared Dudley — the team’s alternate player representative on union calls — explaining that he was under the impression that players could come and go from the bubble as they pleased.
But leaks yesterday painted a different picture, with the NBA’s plan reportedly including keeping all players at the bubble site and not letting them leave, and only allowing limited family members (who would have to quarantine prior to seeing the players) by the second round of the playoffs. Players and their families could also not visit the parks portion of Disney World. Sorry, Lopez twins.
That’s quite the disparity in views, to the point that it seems (from the outside at least) like it could be a potential snag in negotiations to resume the season going smoothly. And in a story from the L.A. Times about how professional athletes are reacting to sports returning, Lakers center JaVale McGee made it sound like Dudley wasn’t the only one who had heard that the league would be letting players come and go as much as they wanted, and added that he wasn’t a fan of restrictions:
The idea of a true quarantine didn’t sit well with NBA players either.
“It was slightly concerning,” Lakers center JaVale McGee said. “Just because I don’t think people are going to do that. We’re grown men, first of all. Luckily that’s not how it’s going to be if it happens.”
It’s important to note two things here. One, we don’t know when this interview took place, so it’s possible that McGee has either changed his mind or accepted that such a quarantine would be necessary to restart the season. Two, an anonymous Lakers player told Dave McMenamin of ESPN that “no one is going to have any problems with the stipulations that have been ratified with this vote because we get a chance to play,” so McGee may simply be outvoted here, either within the team, potentially in the union, or maybe even both.
Still, it’s worth remembering that NBPA Executive Director Michelle Roberts — whose job it is to speak for the players in private (and in this case, public) negotiations — infamously compared the “bubble” concept to prison in an interview about it from early May:
NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts explains why the idea of a strict bubble has never been popular with players. “Are we going to arm guards around the hotel?That sounds like incarceration to me." https://t.co/zqPgMrd2Ov— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) May 8, 2020
And the Times’ story painted a picture of McGee — and some of the league — being relatively unconcerned with the safety trade-offs of a less-than-secure bubble:
Silver noted that data are showing that healthy young people, like most of the league’s players, are at lower risk for severe complications. McGee, the Lakers center, has asthma and suffered from pneumonia last year, two things that could put him at greater risk if he had a COVID-19 infection. McGee said recently that he does not worry about the illness.
Now, this is where it’s worth noting that no NBA players that we know of have had serious complications from the coronavirus, and that two Lakers — McGee was not among them, but we don’t know who they were — already tested positive for and recovered from the illness.
But players aren’t the only ones going into the campus environment being proposed. NBA coaches, many of whom are older, are also headed to Orlando, and fighting back against the idea of age-related restrictions.
Carlisle continued: ..."healthier than someone in their 30's or 40's. The conversation should never be solely about a person's age. Adam assured me that we would work through this together to help determine what is both safe and fair for all of our coaches." https://t.co/yYDldXL69D— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 5, 2020
And it’s not just coaches and players that are going into this “bubble.” Other team staffers — who have a lot less leverage and choice — will join them, as will (at some point) players’ families, in addition to the employees at the resort, and maybe even select members of the media. Will none of them be in at-risk groups? If they are, how is the NBA keeping them safe?
If they’re not keeping the bubble secure, it would seem to raise the threat level in doing all of this, as well as — if the health threat isn’t enough of a deterrent — the chances of them having to cancel this resumption attempt.
Look, we all are hoping for basketball to come back, and as someone who is literally employed because of this sport, I have as much motivation to want it back as anyone. But it’s also part of that job to question things going on in this league when their process seems a little iffy, and to cover this stuff as honestly as possible. I won’t always be right, but I will always try my best to be thoughtful.
And for the record, I completely understand why players would be hesitant to agree to extra restrictions. Florida is as open as any state right now, and being locked down — no matter where you are — sucks. Likely doubly so if it’s your job forcing you to do so. But they and the NBA also have a responsibility to everyone involved with this to undergo this process in as safe a way as they possibly can. If this bubble is getting burst constantly by players (or other people) going in and out, that makes it a lot less safe for everyone, no matter how unworried players are about that.
We’ll see what middle ground the league and the union eventually reach — and it does seem exceedingly likely this will still get done — but what restrictions are ultimately going to be put into place when everyone gets to Orlando will be one of the biggest things to watch for over the next few weeks, especially for those trying to predict how all of this is going to go.