Everyone thinks they can win a road game. Only 40 percent of NBA teams actually do.
In unfamiliar terrain, a misstep can destroy months of preparation.
Last week, the NBA released a 113-page health and safety memorandum in preparation to restart the season at Disney World. The plan, which requires only a 36-hour quarantine upon entry, is far from perfect, and it often confuses action with effectiveness. But it tries to mitigate the risk, if it doesn’t prevent the spread of the coronavirus entirely. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, called it “quite creative.”
But the biggest weakness in the plan: Disney World employees entering and re-entering campus, potentially COVID-19 carriers, has been exacerbated by a depressing but entirely predictable increase in coronavirus cases in Florida, particularly in Orange, the location of Disney World.
A similar concept of “bubble” has worked in Germany, where the Bundesliga is moving forward with confidence. But location matters. Germany has averaged around 600 new cases per day this week, that is, by the way, in the midst of an increase. Florida registered 5,500 new cases today, breaking its daily record.
The Toronto Raptors have already entered Florida, but not yet Disney World. In the coming weeks, the 22 NBA teams will venture onto the Disney campus in a state where the government has always heeded medical advice, a state led by Governor Ron DeSantis, whose primary reaction to the pandemic It has been opening the doors of your state to companies that cannot operate in states with stricter pandemic-related restrictions. Chosen to represent more than 21 million people, DeSantis witnessed the emergence of a pandemic and wondered how he could gamify it.
Outdoor basketball courts in some states are still closed, but DeSantis has set the stage for professional sports (and other events) to restart in Florida. “What I would say to the league commissioners is that if you have a team in an area where they just don’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said May 15, as a volunteer his been like a petri dish. Until now, the MLS, NBA, WNBA and UFC have forced it.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen, on June 4, when the NBA approved a restart scenario, 3 percent of coronavirus tests returned a positive result in Orange County. Since then, that number has successively increased to 17.3 percent. In April, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA would prioritize the data on the date. But the league is setting up camp in a state that has always done the opposite. Silver’s words, unless the NBA pulls out and reexamines the plan, will ring hollow.
The league may want to follow the example of how people inside feel. The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning closed its facilities after players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Spring training in Florida has stopped.
DeSantis still does not plan to close deals. Some of the businesses it intends to save have been in charge of closing.
Workers who are supposed to enter and re-enter campus? More than 6,000 Disney World employees have signed a petition to lobby the theme park to reconsider the reopening.
DeSantis has obfuscated and downplayed matters in an attempt to make Floridians believe that the murky present is not so bad. He has attributed the increase in cases to an increase in testing, even as the percentage of positives has increased. He has pointed to a lack of hospitalizations as optimistic, even when beds reach capacity statewide, including in Orange County. Rather than reintroducing restrictions, the state is changing reporting guidelines on how ICU beds are counted.
Today, Florida Democrats asked DeSantis to reissue a statewide mask requirement.
In May, Rebekah Jones, a data scientist with the Florida Department of Health, was fired for her repeated subordination. Jones maintains that it was because she refused to manipulate the data in the case. On Tuesday, he tweeted that various Health Department sources were told to “change the numbers and slowly begin to eliminate deaths and cases to make it appear that Florida is improving next week, in the run-up to July 4” .
None of this should be particularly surprising. Money-driven companies have incentives to open stores in states that loathe to regulate the spread of the virus. Three months, we have learned, is an eternity in the virus timeline. No one can predict their future, but in Florida, leagues can at least trust that the regulatory arena is unlikely to change enough to close them.
But restarting games in Florida gives the NBA only the illusion of control against a virus that has proven to control everything in its path. It’s like making a deal with the devil just to have control over the thermostat. You can’t make hell less hot.
If the NBA doesn’t get the hiatus in this experiment, the only thing they’re betting on is that the cases will miraculously drop. The biggest question surrounding the restart of sports, as always, is what if someone dies? It’s not something the state of Florida seems concerned about.