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April 07, 2020

Reports: NBA weighs rapid-test options, alters pre-draft process due to COVID-19

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Adam-Silver_040720_usat Quinn Harris/USA TODAY Sports

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Could the NBA return sooner than expected? The answer, as with any other question related to COVID-19, is that nobody really knows. But new reports suggest the NBA is looking into rapid-testing availability in order to get the ball rolling to restart the season.

On Monday evening, ESPN's Baxter Holmes reported that the NBA and the NBA Players Association had been in discussions regarding the viability of blood-testing devices that could provide tests results in minutes, an important plank of bringing leagues back at all.

Multiple league sources close to the situation said the league and players union have been looking at what those familiar with the matter describe as "diabetes-like" blood testing in which someone could, with the prick of a finger, be tested quickly, and results could be gained inside of 15 minutes. 

The Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories began shipping its rapid-response tests across the U.S. last week, according to a Washington Post report. The tests, which have been approved by the FDA, are said to deliver results in five-to-13 minutes. 

The league sources stressed that this matter is in the exploratory phase and that there is no clear timetable as to when the efficacy of any such device might be proven. They also stressed that advances in science and medicine are proceeding at a rapid pace, with collaboration across borders, which offers hope that breakthrough solutions could be possible much sooner than later. [ESPN]

That last bit is an important thing to keep in mind not just for the NBA, but the world at large. This is not an American-only problem, and people all around the world are looking for solutions to an issue that seems daunting at the moment. Though a return to normalcy may be further off than everyone would like, it doesn't necessarily mean we're trapped in our houses forever. A new day will dawn.

Here is the rub with Holmes' report — not only does it hinge on this test being the fix they need, the NBA will have to wait until testing is available to more essential employees on the frontlines of the pandemic.

The wider availability of the devices the NBA and NBPA have been assessing was unclear. But many team officials around the league said that if an effective rapid-testing approach is cleared and made available, the timing of when such a method could be utilized in the NBA is still unclear and must be handled delicately and appropriately, given the steep shortages of testing available nationwide. 

 "We are going to be clearly second in line to health care workers, transportation workers, public workers, things along those lines," a longtime NBA head athletic trainer said. 

"Even if the technology is there, is it accessible?" said another athletic training official with firsthand knowledge of the process. "Because obviously we have higher-priority people that may need that, like our emergency workers and health care professionals that definitely take a priority over our players." [ESPN]

As great of a story it would be to have sports return in short order, offering a morale boost during a trying time, the reality is that can't come before other, more essential needs are addressed. We are living through a health crisis, where people need access to testing and potential vaccines in other industries of more consequence than sports are. That's not to downplay the economic reality of thousands of workers being out of luck with the league shut down, but it is the reality of the situation.

Even in ideal circumstances, no decisions are being made on the league moving forward until at least the beginning of May, according to NBA commissioner Adam Silver. He sat down with Turner's Ernie Johnson in a stream hosted by the league on Monday evening, and Silver said nothing would be handed down this month.

"Essentially what I've told my folks over the last week is we should just accept that at least for the month of April, we won't be in a position to make any decisions," Silver said. "I don't think that necessarily means that, on May 1, we will be [in that position], but at least I know that just to settle everyone down a little bit."  

"It doesn't mean that, internally, both the league and discussions with our players and the teams we aren't looking at many different scenarios for restarting the season, but I think it honestly is just too early, given what's happened right now, to even be able to project or predict where we will be in a few weeks."

Looking forward past the season, because that's a thing that we can reasonably do at this stage of the game, temporary changes are coming to the pre-draft process. A team source confirmed reports that a memo was sent by the league mandating a few tweaks to the usual pre-draft process.

The major points of emphasis:

  1. In-person workouts and interviews are banned until further notice
  2. Teams may conduct virtual interviews with prospects, but can only spend a total of four hours with any individual player
  3. Teams may not request individual workout footage of players, and can only study film from game settings or practice sessions in their respective leagues before the NBA suspended on March 11th

Draft fallout is far from the minds of most sports fans (or at least basketball fans) at the moment, but it'll be interesting to see how those changes impact hit rates for organizations around the league this coming year. In what is considered a weak draft class, those in-person workouts and interviews could have ended up making a big difference, and teams who have done the most homework on the ground ahead of time may have a leg up on the competition.

The bottom line is that while sports seem like a potential escape for everyone locked in their homes, the leagues have as much (if not more) responsibility to do what's right rather than what's profitable than the rest of us. If health professionals need everyone to stay home, no one is above that order, athletes included.

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