On Friday morning, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association officially formalized their return to play plan at the Disney World Campus. On Friday afternoon, both the league and its players acknowledged the growing concern they share about the restart as coronavirus cases in Florida continue to escalate.
And then on Friday evening, they went ahead and released each participating team’s schedule of eight “seeding games” that will effectively serve as a conclusion to the shelved regular season and determine playoff matchups.
The Utah Jazz will actually open up all the games in Orlando on July 30 against the New Orleans Pelicans. After that, they’ll take on the Thunder, Lakers, Grizzlies, Spurs, Nuggets, Mavericks, and the Spurs again.
Of course, just hours before it was revealed who’d be playing who, a cadre of league and union leadership members were discussing how they got to this point, and the risks inherent in going forward.
“We ultimately believe it will be safer on our campus than outside it,” commissioner Adam Silver said. “But the signal we are sending is this is definitely not business as usual. This is far from an ideal way to finish our season, and it will require tremendous sacrifices from all those involved.
“We know that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future,” he added. “And we are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now.”
Still, as positive diagnoses continue to soar — reaching almost 9,000 in Florida’s new tally on Friday alone — there has been growing concern about whether assembling the league’s players and coaches in a coronavirus hot spot is worth the inherent danger.
While Silver conceded that “yes, the level of concern has increased — not just because of the increased levels in Florida, but throughout the country,” he also maintained his belief that the campus bubble, though fallible, is also ultimately the best option.
“My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus, and that this is what we’re gonna be living with for the foreseeable future, which is why we designed the campus the way we did,” Silver said. “It’s a closed network; and while it’s not impermeable, we are in essence protected from cases around us. At least, that’s the model. So for those reasons, we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.”
The commissioner noted that coronavirus testing will take place daily, at least initially, for NBA players within the bubble. He added that the league is also negotiating with Disney to test “a subset” of employees who have the potential to interact with league personnel.
Just about everyone on the conference call — Silver, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts, NBPA president and Thunder guard Chris Paul, and NBPA first vice president and Heat wing Andre Iguodala — expressed to some degree their belief that the campus environment will be as safe an environment as is possible.
“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time and energy coming up with a protocol that each of us is able to sleep at night, knowing it’s the best we can do to mitigate the risk of an infection on our players and our teams and our staffs,” Roberts said. “If I didn’t feel that way, I would be recommending to Chris and to the players to stay home.”
Still, in spite of all the precautions taken, no one is deluding themselves into thinking it’s impossible for the coronavirus to make it into Disney World.
Asked to what degree the virus would have to permeate the campus in order for games to be postponed or, ultimately, canceled, Silver noted that one positive test — be it for a journeyman or a superstar — would only trigger a quarantine of that player and additional testing for those the player came in contact with; however, “If we were to have significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping,” Silver said. He added that the league would simply have to make decisions as it goes.
That said, both Silver and Roberts expressed some measure of relief that the result of this past Monday’s mandatory league wide testing wound up yielding only 16 positive cases out of 302 tests administered.
“I’ve been holding my breath the last few weeks. I think one [positive] would have been concerning. But, God forgive me, I was frankly, to some extent, relieved that the number was not higher,” Roberts said. “… If nothing else, it told me that the great majority of our players have been doing exactly what they should have been doing to keep themselves safe.”
As for those players, Paul said many of them are eager to resume the games, not simply because basketball is their job, but because of the platform it will afford them to bring additional awareness to the cause of racial and social justice.
“We all understand how powerful our voice is,” Paul said. “Even if we’re back to playing, our voice can still be heard ... on an unbelievable platform. You’re going to continue to hear us. It’s never a ‘shut up and dribble’ situation. You’re going to continue to hear us.”
JAZZ SEEDING GAMES SCHEDULE
All times Mountain
July 30 • Pelicans, 4:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 1 • Thunder, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 3 • Lakers, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 5 • Grizzlies, 12:30 p.m.
Aug. 7 • Spurs, 11 a.m.
Aug. 8 • Nuggets, 1:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 10 • Mavericks, 1 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 13 • Spurs, time TBD