Will the NBA restart be a big breather?

“For us, we feel like this is what we do: We put on NBA basketball,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on ESPN 10 days ago when asked about the league’s plan to resume its suspended season. “We believe that, for the country, it will be a respite [from] the enormous difficulties people face in their lives right now. “

At best, NBA basketball can be pure magic, poetry in motion, the ointment that soothes your nerves; Lord knows that, thanks to the combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s current recognition with the racial justice movement, police brutality, and widespread structural inequality, there are many nerves across the country these days. But with the NBA’s planned return in just over five weeks, the grim facts of America’s ongoing fight to stem the COVID-19 tide seem to continue to push that expected relief beyond reach.

Outbreaks of positive evidence continue to appear in all other American sports that have already resumed or are working toward it. The number of cases in Florida, the NBA’s predicted bubble site, continues to skyrocket. The closer the return of the NBA is, the harder it is to avoid the growing suspicion that every moment that passes brings the league and its players, who have agreed to get into these treacherous waters because staying on the coast would cost them more than $ 1. billion – Closer to another ominous shoe drop.

The 113-page NBA memo that outlines the health and safety protocols the league will take to try to prevent players, coaches and support staff from capturing and spreading the new coronavirus has been praised for its scope and attention to detail. . “No plan is perfect,” Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist and professor at Oxford College of Emory University, told NBC Sports Tom Haberstroh. “The NBA is taking a lot of good steps here.” But the league still needs firm ground on which to carry them, and the situation is becoming very unstable in central Florida.

Florida, one of the first states to reopen closed businesses, has become one of the nation’s most worrisome coronavirus hotspots, with positive tests and hospitalizations increasing dramatically in the past two weeks. The World Health Organization has recommended that “test positivity rates (that is, of all tests performed, how many tested positive for COVID-19) should remain at 5 percent or less for at least 14 days” before that a state can reopen. In Orange County, where the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports complex is located, where the NBA “campus vibe” will be located, the positive assessment rate for the week ending June 14 was 12 percent. percent, and the single-day rate on Wednesday was 17.3 percent.

“If the numbers held steady or fell, I would have a lot of confidence in the plan,” Perut Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, told Marc Stein. The New York Times. “The rising numbers mean that you are in a different situation now, which increases the likelihood of transmission and makes the plan, which is excellent but not foolproof, more susceptible to virus infiltration.”

The first round of NBA testing reportedly yielded four positive tests for a Western Conference playoff team, and two more for a Phoenix Suns team that was one of the last six additions to the 22-team restart. Nikola Jokic, the NBA center that leads the Denver Nuggets, has tested positive; so have Malcolm Brogdon, the Indiana Pacers ‘third-leading scorer and assistant, and the Sacramento Kings’ Buddy Hield, Alex Len and Jabari Parker.

The NBA clearly expected a series of positive tests when the player evaluation began. (It’s like a bad test preparation analogy: COVID-19 infects some people; all NBA players are people; therefore, COVID-19 will infect some NBA players.) Like Nick Kosmider from The athletic He notes that the calendar was built for teams to begin testing two weeks before traveling to Florida, allowing those who contracted the virus to be quarantined, treated, and hopefully obtain timely clearance to participate in the training camp. and be on the court for the planned July 30 restart.

However, concerns may start to increase when affected players actually return to the floor. Perhaps the players who got sick will quickly return to their pre-illness form. But perhaps they will not; The impact of the disease on a person’s cardiovascular health can be significant. Argentine soccer star Paulo Dybala tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time in late March, and although the 26-year-old striker returned to the field for Italy’s Serie A Juventus, he recently said he still didn’t feel 100 for hundred about three months later (and after four positive tests). Von Miller, an All-Pro defender with the NFL Denver Broncos, told Kent Babb of The Washington Post that after contracting the coronavirus, resting for 17 days, and returning to training, “I could still feel [his] lungs trying to get in shape. It’s all the wear and tear it puts on your lungs. “Note: Miller also suffers from asthma. So do several NBA players, including Lakers center JaVale McGee Nets center DeAndre Jordan and the Rockets superstar James Harden.

The long-term health prospects could be more worrying. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote Tuesday that NBA teams battling for a playoff spot do not “believe this restart is worth risking for players who could continue into the upcoming season,” and that some will use the restart as “an extended summer league to develop young players and protect veterans”. But while teams may try to limit sprains, pulls, and soft tissue injuries as players return to top speed, those aren’t the only types of persistent injuries players now have to worry about. . It remains a great question what kind of significant and lasting damage COVID-19 can cause to those who have contracted it.

The affected players could take the issues much longer than just “until next season.” The same would be true for other bubble-dwellers not entirely: Lakers guard Avery Bradley chose to leave Orlando because his 6-year-old son has a history of respiratory problems and likely does not have medical clearance to join him. . As Bradley told Wojnarowski, “You can’t imagine making a decision that can put my family’s health and well-being at the slightest risk.”

We are hearing that word a lot at the moment, often in the context of the phrases “risk tolerance”, “risk management” and “risk appetite”. They all have different decision-making factors, and many, perhaps most, players are willing to do whatever it takes to play, compete, and seek a title, asterisks or not. There’s also the massive motivating factor of making sure they get paid for the rest of this season, and that they reduce the likelihood that league owners will break the collective bargaining agreement.

Perhaps this danger shouldn’t be recorded as anything other than the ever-present risk of injury that players have always assumed every time they step onto the court – the possibility that an ugly collision or landing could lead to devastated ligaments or compound fractures. And maybe it won’t feel like this for everyone, and once the ball goes up, it will feel like the basketball business as usual, or as close as we can get in these conditions; Even after watching the careers of players like Shaun Livingston, Paul George, and Gordon Hayward change in an instant, we don’t spend every subsequent game thinking about the possible horror of a misstep.

Is feel different, however. More terrifying and more tense, a decidedly more messy viewing experience than the “breather” Silver and Co. hope to provide. But again: everything is a risk at the moment, and the argument against the concerns of “canceling the season” rests on the contingency of everything: “power”, “power”, “power”, ” Big Open Questions “that no one can answer about a disease that has killed more than 482,000 people worldwide.

The reason the NBA is taking the risk is very clear. There was never a way for owners, players, broadcasters and partners to abandon staggering sums of money. As a general manager told Sam Amick of The athletic: “You know and I know why we are playing, for the money. If not [for] That, do you really think we would be playing? On top of that, as Amick points out, the league employs thousands of non-players whose jobs would be in jeopardy without a season. Despite the increase in cases in Orange County, the NBA’s combination of precautions and resources may make the Disney site safer than the players’ home cities. It is also possible that they are not, since many Disney employees will not stay on campus and will not be subject to any coronavirus tests.

Maybe everything will go smoothly: with few positive tests, with healthy recoveries from those who get sick, without senior trainers or vulnerable staff members who become seriously ill. Maybe we’ll end up getting that sigh of relief we’ve been looking for in surprisingly high-quality basketball that reminds us of what we’ve been missing and saves the league as we know it from financial ruin.

Or maybe the players who dress up in Orlando, all of them, are signing up for untold risk, something we don’t really understand at the moment. Maybe the possibility is small, but it’s there: on the court, on the television screen and in the back of our minds. Or, really, the front.