Washington (AFP) – NBA officials are confident their safety protocols and players’ desire to stay healthy will make the 2019-20 season’s bubble restart a success, league deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said Wednesday.
On the eve of the coronavirus-halted campaign resuming, Tatum said there have been no positive COVID-19 tests inside the bubble among about 350 players conducting pre-season scrimmages.
“Based on the results, our protocols are working,” Tatum said on a conference call. “We’re pleased we’ve had zero cases of COVID-19 positives during that time.
“We understand we have a long way to go. The people on campus are cognizant of adhering to the rules to keeping everybody safe and healthy.”
The season was halted March 11 after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. More than four months of planning and consultation with safety experts followed.
“We’ve developed an extensive list of protocols to keep everyone on our campus healthy and safe, which is our first priority,” Tatum said. “So far they seem to be working.”
In all, 22 NBA teams — including 89 international players from 34 nations — will resume games in a bubble quarantine setting without spectators at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, starting with 88 “seeding” games to complete the regular season.
That will determine brackets for next month’s start of the NBA playoffs with a champion scheduled to be crowned in October, about a year after the season tipped off.
“Whoever wins the championship this year will be very deserving,” Tatum said.
“They will have to overcome so much adversity to get to that finish line, it will be satisfying for whoever gets that championship.”
There has been growing concern about US sports restarting given the rise in COVID-19 cases in hotspot Florida and Major League Baseball having to cancel games less than a week into its return with a travel-based system.
It didn’t help that Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers left on an excused absence for the death of a family friend and was photographed in a strip club, for which he was given a maximum 10-day in-room quarantine upon his return to the bubble.
“We’re hopeful and optimistic that if everyone complies with the protocols that we’ll be able to crown a champion at the end of the season,” Tatum said.
Tatum says the NBA has plans depending on multiple outbreak situations.
“If something were to happen, we would have to dive into the specifics of that case or cases to see what our actions would be,” Tatum said. “We have an extensive group of protocols.”
Creating medical protocols was the toughest part of forming the bubble, Tatum said.
“We were not going to go forward if we didn’t come up with a plan we felt very comfortable in that would keep everybody safe,” Tatum said. “We’re doing something here we’ve never done before and that few people have ever attempted.”
– ‘Tremendous sacrifices’ –
Asked what might happen if a player violated the NBA rule requiring them to stand during national anthems, Tatum said, “We’ll deal with that situation.”
Asked about sex in the bubble, Tatum said, “everyone is making tremendous sacrifices” and noted family members can enter after the first round of the playoffs, once only eight teams remain.
The NBA has had strong ratings in China for scrimmages despite strained relations after a team executive supported Hong Kong protesters on social media last year.
“The numbers in terms of viewership have been very positive,” he said. “Fans in China are looking forward to having the NBA restart.”
As the NBA learns from the restart, talks are starting with the players union on when, and how, a 2020-21 season might launch. December is a targeted time, but nothing is settled.
“We’re now starting in the very early stages with the players association on how we do next season with safety and health as the number one priority,” Tatum said.