By Arnie Leshin
It’s the National Basketball Association’s turn to start seeing where it stands.
Phase One: Opening the practice courts. Phase Two: Who knows when that will come. It’s not imminent.
Games are not close. Getting players back into facilities is not a precursor to games being played, it’s more about keeping them out of public gymnasiums and playgrounds that are starting to reopen. Positive tests during individual training or practices could delay or destroy plans for games.
Still, there are some reasons for hope. The NBA is still working towards a plan to test players if the season resumes. It has exchanged data with leagues across the world, and there have been some success stories.
Baseball is being played again in South Korea, Major League Soccer has returned to fields for workouts with restrictions, Germany’s top soccer league has allowed players to return to training facilities despite some staff and players having tested positive.
To dig deeper, there’s been this unprecedented collaboration and communications among scientists across the globe, and what’s going on in sports medicine sort of parallels that as a much different level of course. But there is also an awful lot of that going on across the world right now. It’s at least daily communication in one way, shape or another with colleagues across the planet in all these different leagues because we are all learning for each other.
As for the NBA, the rules that teams will have to adhere to when they resume even the voluntary workouts are like none previously put in place. For instance, a 12-foot buffer between everyone, one player per basket, one ball per basket, no more than four players in the facility at once, plus everyone must wear face masks and gloves, with the lone exception being players while they work out. And every player must undergo cardiac screening before resuming voluntary workouts.
Spalding, which makes NBA basketballs, has even developed a plan that has been sent to teams for how to wipe them down with a solution of dish soap like Dawn mixed with a gallon of water, then further wipe them down with just water, allow them to air dry, then spray the balls with a disinfectant.
The consensus around the NBA is to analyze information and talking through what-ifs and trying to learn little details that could make a difference, and it’s literally a constant, daily progress.
Beginning Friday, some NBA players may return to team practice facilities, but with certain conditions and limitations. But it’s unclear how many — if any — players will be back on the floor Friday when the league ban gets lifted.
The Miami Heat is allowed to open its doors for the first time in six weeks, but won’t until at least Monday while it works out certain logistical details. The Orlando Magic isn’t going to welcome players back immediately either. The same goes with the Utah Jazz, the first NBA team to deal with the coronavirus after Rudy Gobert tested positive March 11 and the league shut down almost immediately. In addition, most teams aren’t allowed to open yet because of local rules.
Basketball hasn’t been played in two months and the league and the players still seem to have a universal desire to get back to work, finish this season and crown a champion. But perhaps mindful of challenges other leagues have faced in their efforts to resume play amid a coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the sports world, the NBA appears to be moving with extreme caution.
Simultaneously, everybody wants to play and everybody wonders if it’s safe to play. It’s like all parties involved know that a major misstep now could doom any realistic chance of playing anytime in the next few months.
And for the United States, it’s tougher than anywhere else. It has by far the most sporting events in the world, and has plenty of fixing to do unlike countries with a sport or two. Got to just keep following the bouncing ball and stay tuned.