Analysis: The NBA has shifted its standard for the bubble from ‘safe’ to ‘safer than elsewhere’

first_imgBack in April, when it was becoming clear that what was once envisioned as perhaps a month-long hiatus would be much, much longer, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that safety was the league’s No. 1 concern.The NBA wanted to return, to help boost the nation’s spirits and perhaps help kickstart an economic comeback. But safety, Silver said at the time, was paramount.“I can say that I think all these team owners are in this business because they love the game, they love the competition,” he said in April. “I know from my conversations with players, they feel the same way. But when you’re dealing with human life, that trumps anything else we could possibly be talking about.”Nearly three months later, as NBA teams have begun reporting to Walt Disney World and are scheduled to open practice as early as Thursday afternoon, it’s universally acknowledged by the league that its strategy to return is not fool-proof. While the 25 reported positive coronavirus tests have, in one sense, been a relief to league parties that worried about a higher ratio, they’re definitive evidence that the threat of COVID-19 remains. It has already derailed teams like the Brooklyn Nets who saw four major players either opt out or be ruled out due to a coronavirus diagnosis. Video: What LeBron James said about Jacob Blake … ‘Black people in America are scared’ But the messaging of the NBA has pivoted, as Silver acknowledged yesterday in a virtual conference for Brainstorm Health. The message is not that the bubble is completely safe, but that it is “safer” than the world around it.“I’m confident, based on the positive cases we’re seeing from our players in the general public around the country that it will be safer on campus than off this campus,” Silver said.That baseline has appeal to players who are eager to return to competition and earn paychecks, but it hasn’t exactly created enthusiasm. Earlier this week, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said he wasn’t “excited” or “thrilled” to be traveling to the Disney campus. League-wide, players have acknowledged the spike in coronavirus cases: Florida reported a nearly 10,000-case increase on Wednesday morning with 48 more deaths.The built-in permeation in the bubble remain a concern, particularly given not all Disney cast members servicing hotels and playing venues will be tested at the same rate as the players. Teams also have just a 48-hour quarantine from when they arrive on campus: The Lakers fly into Disney on Thursday, and have their first practice scheduled for Saturday night. Is that enough time to isolate any new cases of the virus?But others see the positive cases that the NBA has already detected as a sign that the restart on campus could be safer than the markets where teams and players would otherwise reside. The argument is that players would otherwise be living their lives, many of them in California or Texas which are now hotspots for COVID-19 spread. Under a controlled environment in Orlando, they could be at less risk. “We all know the possibilities that there is an outbreak or whatever you want to call it that would prevent us from finishing the season, but we’re optimistic that it will happen,” Frank Vogel said recently. “I think the environment that Adam Silver and the league office have created could probably be one of the safer environments in the world.”Those precautions will be extensive, and not just when players and staff are on the clock: It will require distancing in most situations, masks when not playing, and rigid monitoring through wearable technology and testing that many players seem to be grudgingly accepting of in the name of safety.Related Articles But “safer” is not “safe.” The Wall Street Journal interviewed several epidemiologists who drew concern over of the short quarantine period on campus that could possibly lead to missing a positive diagnosis since coronavirus symptoms can take as much as a week to manifest. Other leagues have also had difficulty: Major League Baseball had a backlog of tests over the holiday weekend, and Major League Soccer has already had FC Dallas withdraw from its restart due to positive tests multiplying.The NBA has not publicly announced how many cases will be too many, which Silver said was still being worked on with the aid of health experts. Leaving that line unclear, however, might indicate that the league could judge that criteria in real time.While the NBA has put painstaking thought into a plan with as much as a billion dollars on the line, that subtle change in messaging indicates the league knows that it is taking a risk. 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