As positive tests mount, should NBA continue playing games?

Surely, this is not what the NBA expected their season to look like.

Coming into the year, without the safety of the bubble that was utilized to carry out the playoffs after last season’s hiatus, the league knew there would be positive tests. They knew there would be delayed games and that the schedule they released was not set in stone, but rather depended on the one thing that we’ve had little control over for almost a year- health.

However, as more players get added to the league’s Health & Safety Protocols every day due to either positive COVID tests or contact tracing, it has become clear that at this rate, the NBA is headed towards another stoppage. Back in March, the league was put on hold after one positive test led to one cancelled game. Obviously, in March we had no clue what we were up against, and stopping after one case was the right call as the virus exploded throughout the country in the following weeks. But in just over three weeks of this season, 10 games have already been postponed. Six of those games have been since last Sunday, with two more games today that will not be played and one tomorrow. The longer the season continues, more games are going to be delayed.

The NBA is clearly committed to making this season work. They continue to update their safety protocols, from mask-wearing on the bench, to where team meetings can take place and how long they can be, and even have begun tracking players’ movements outside of the team facility. We know the league office is going to do what it takes to keep playing games. The question is: will the players?

The year got off to a shaky start thanks to the Houston Rockets, whose COVID-19 situation led to their very first game of the season being delayed. James Harden was placed in quarantine and fined $50,000 for showing up maskless at a party to support a friend. Instead of apologizing for his mistake, he felt the need to clarify that the event was not at a strip club, but just a regular club, and that people were unfairly “trying to drag (his) name under”. Then, four more Rockets players were placed in quarantine after they went as a group to get haircuts and one of them returned a positive test.

As cases mounted and more games were postponed, with the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns both having three games delayed, George Hill came out and said this.

This attitude is a huge part of the problem the NBA is facing. The players don’t want to change how they live, even during this continuing pandemic. Many of us have not seen family members outside of our direct family since this started- why should NBA players be any different? We’ve all had to drastically change the way we live, and NBA players’ reluctance to do so is why this season may be heading towards another shutdown.

The players have already been very clear that they have no interest in going into another bubble this early in the season, and the league apparently agrees that that is not a viable plan. But if players continue to purposefully do things that go against the league’s protocol, how much longer can the season afford to go without a shutdown?

All of this information leads to the same conclusion: the NBA is quickly heading towards another shutdown, and it would be better for them to do it before the entire league gets sick. As we’ve seen, both in the country as a whole and in the league so far this year, every person that get sick has the potential to infect well more than just one more person, so exposure to the virus spreads exponentially. This is what we’ve seen in teams like the Boston Celtics, where one player tests positive initially, and then eventually more than half the roster is identified as either also positive or must sit out because they were a close contact to someone who is.

Every day, more and more players are testing positive, and bringing into quarantine with them anyone they’ve had contact with in the last few days. That includes not only their teammates, but also players from other teams that they spent extended time near in recent games. So the spread is not only within teams, but league wide. Eventually, the league might reach a point where they have to involuntarily go into a shutdown because more than one or two teams don’t have enough players to play their games. The best move for the league would be to pause before that happens and let the positive cases in the league disappear before returning to give the league the best shot of actually making it through the season. If the players won’t protect themselves, it’s up to the league to do it for them.

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