The NBA announced Thursday that nine more players tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 25 of 351 players in testing conducted over a weeklong span.
Last week, the NBA revealed that 16 of 302 players had tested positive and raised that total to 25 on Thursday. The league also said that 884 team staff members were tested, with 10 testing positive.
The numbers for players are far above what the national average is - seven percent of players positive compared to slightly less than one percent for the general population (and the same figure for positive tests among the tested). The staff figures are more in line with the national number, averaging out to one percent.
“Any player, coach or team staff member who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until they satisfy public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and have been cleared by a physician,” the NBA said in the release.
Right now, the NBA is in Phase 2 of the five-part plan to return, gathering players in their home cities (except for the Toronto Raptors, who have already headed down to Fort Myers, Florida). Teams are scheduled to arrive in Orlando at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex next week for training camp, quarantining in hotels at first and then conducting camp July 9-29 before the eight-game seeding portion of the schedule begins on July 30.
Speaking at a Time 100 talk on Tuesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, “We have a panel of scientists, doctors, experts that are working with us. We’re going to see as we go. Certainly, if we have a lot of cases, we’re going to stop. You cannot run from this virus. I am absolutely convinced that it will be safer on this campus than off this campus, because there aren’t many other situations I’m aware of where there’s mass testing of asymptomatic employees. So in some ways this is maybe a model for how other industries ultimately open.”
As the league figures out a way to safely bring 22 teams to Orlando, there have been rumblings of efforts to hold a summer league type of camp for the eight teams left out of the restart of the NBA. ESPN reported that the NBA was close to signing off on a second bubble in Chicago for those teams.
But it is far from a sure thing. The Knicks, one of the eight teams, were not on the call, as their executives were busy with previously-scheduled phone interviews. According to a source, the Knicks' executives were conducting interviews with Lakers assistant Jason Kidd and Spurs assistant coach Will Hardy, part of the first round of interviews for their vacant head coaching job.
But they have remained steadfast in their belief that this is not the ideal scenario for their team. The Knicks are searching for a new coach and would prefer a minicamp at their own facility under the guidance of the new coach - a controlled environment that could include scrimmaging, but have less risk of injury while acclimating the players to the new coach’s style. If they were forced to play exhibition games against other teams it’s hard to imagine the eight potential free agents on the roster wanting to risk injury or the team wanting to put its best young talent on the floor for the same risk, especially if it is held in September as ESPN reported.
“Candidly, while I appreciate that there will be a bit of a layoff, I think there are some things these teams can do to get the guys that are not playing some [benefit] by their not being involved in Orlando,” National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Robert said in a conference call last week. “But unless we could replicate in every way the protocol that’s been established for Orlando, I’d be – I’m being tame now – suspicious.
“I think there are conversations that could be had if there’s anything we can do with the other eight teams. I know there are some players, particularly young players, that seem concerned they’re not getting enough [opportunities]. I think our teams are incredibly smart and creative and can come up with ways to get their guys engaged, if not now, before the season starts.
“But I am very concerned and frankly, my concern aside, our players, our teams are very concerned about any — in terms of play that doesn’t have the same guarantees of safety and health that we’ve provided for the teams in Orlando,” she added. “So yeah, never say never, but there’s a standard. It’s a standard that’s got to be met, and if it’s not met, next question, as far as I’m concerned.”