Florida has seen a surge in new coronavirus cases of late. On Saturday, the state reported record numbers in the outbreak — just in time for the NBA to return to play quarantined inside Walt Disney World.
What could go wrong?
General managers reportedly have a few concerns with the Orlando restart plan, according to an anonymous poll taken by Sam Amick of The Athletic. Here’s some of the feedback Amick on Monday heard back from 10 of the 22 general managers who are taking part in the return to play plan:
Safety concerns and a seemingly-inevitable outbreak
Floridian bars and restaurants had to close back up within a week of reopening, and if numbers continue to increase as they have, who nows what decisions the NBA will have to make between here and the start of the season.
“If the cases keep spiking in Florida, things are going to happen. I’m really, really concerned for the league big-picture wise in many, many ways,” one GM told Amick.
“With each case that rises in Orlando, the smart players with families are like, ‘Why the (expletive) are we going there again?’” said another.
Not to mention, while the NBA players and personnel are under strict isolation restrictions, the Disney employees making everything possible are coming and going from the campus after their shifts. Essentially, the bubble is bursted.
“It is, by definition, no longer a bubble, and so even the illusion of a safer environment is gone,” a third GM said.
“When I see the (infection) rates of college football teams and other organizations (in the news), and it says, ‘Players and staff,’ that’s what worries me the most is the ‘and staff’ part,” another GM said. “Which staff members are the ones contracting COVID, and am I putting them at risk?”
What will the effects of isolation have on the quality of play?
Player families, as it stands now, aren’t able to join their athlete in the bubble until after the first round of playoffs.
So at minimum, from reporting to Florida to finishing the first round, the 16 teams that make it to that point will be without their closest family and friends for seven weeks.
“Most of these guys aren’t familiar with the psychology of deployment, and finding safe opportunities to integrate familiarity and normalcy into their lives will go a long way,” one GM said.
A rival GM reportedly told Amick that the Los Angeles Clippers have been the most vocal about getting the league to change this policy to allow for at least one plus-one at Disney. Brad Stevens is rumored to be pushing for that as well.
No matter the outcome, the NBA’s economy has been immensely impacted
The big question is, will all of this be worth it? But with the money that can be salvaged, you have to at least try. Because it will have a long-lasting effect on all aspects of the NBA for years to come.
“Uncomfortable — how can anyone not be,” a GM said of his feelings toward the experience to come. “A lot of uncertainty. I know all the proper measures are being taken but (there) is still a lot (of) unknown. You know and I know why we are playing — for the money. If not that, do you really think we would be playing? I get it, and I’m in…but with hesitation.”
“The financial stuff that’s coming in is so heavy, and I think everybody has to share in that responsibility,” a different GM said. “If you don’t at least try and see how this goes … the NBA could be impacted easily in the next five to 10 years in a way that it’d be very similar to what your industry is going through as well. There’s just going to be mass layoffs, and it could really change.”
There is some optimism
Of course there’s a risk involved, but many general managers agree that they’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better plan.
“The issue is relative risk (to a team’s home market) — not the risk of the Orlando campus,” a GM explained. “I believe (we’re) safer in (the) Orlando campus, given all the precautions.”
“I think the precautions the NBA is taking to enhance the safety of the bubble participants are nothing short of extraordinary. … Once (everyone is) on campus, I think (people within the league) will appreciate the NBA’s work on this,” another praised.
“I think (the expectation of positive tests was) built into the ramp-up time to Orlando,” one GM said. “(With) all these positive tests that will inevitably come in on players and staff, it gives them the opportunity to be as healthy as possible to be there, to get to Orlando.”
“I think it’s a good plan; it’s reasonable,” Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a viralogist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York told Amick.. “(You’re) trying to balance the needs of — this is a big business that employs a lot of people, and we can’t be on indefinite lockdown forever. (But) it’s not a completely safe plan, and I don’t know that there is a completely safe plan.”