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June 23, 2020

Report: NBA teams preparing for 'significant' number of positive COVID-19 tests

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Adam-Silver_040720_usat Quinn Harris/USA TODAY Sports

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

NBA teams are preparing for, "significant numbers of positive tests" while screening their players for COVID-19, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday afternoon, and a Western Conference playoff team has reportedly already recorded four positive tests in recent weeks.

With the NBA preparing to restart their season in about five weeks, the process of regathering players and teams has already begun. With the exception of the Toronto Raptors, who traveled to Florida early due to quarantine and travel issues in Canada, NBA players were expected to return to their "home markets" by June 15 before a wave of mandatory testing that started Tuesday, June 23rd.

If the timing works out ideally, an initial wave of positive tests might not be enough to derail the NBA's restart plans. Mandatory workouts at team facilities don't begin until July 1st, and the non-Toronto teams do not begin chartered travel to Orlando until July 7th, giving them a two-week buffer before all parties are on their way to the NBA's campus in Florida.

Testing, for what it's worth, will take a multi-faceted approach before the teams leave for Orlando, according to a memo sent to players last week that was provided to PhillyVoice.

  1. Testing for COVID-19 will "consist of a shallow nasal swab and oral swab (COVID-19 PCR test) and a blood draw (serology/antibody test)." The NBA will not use the long nasal swab that has led to many complaints of discomfort nationally.
  2. PCR tests will be repeated "regularly," while antibody tests will only be repeated one time after a positive test for COVID-19
  3. In the event of a positive test, players are to be contacted immediately and will be, "required to self-isolate and follow guidance provided by the team doctor, which may include additional tests and screening"
  4. If a member of the player's household tests positive, the player, "may be required to quarantine as well" so they can be monitored for symptoms and be tested

These measures will all escalate once the players are in Orlando, with daily temperature checks, symptom surveys, and finger clip oxygen screening added into the mix. Depending on the results of those tests, PCR tests will ebb and flow and will take place as often as every day for those on the campus in Disney World.

Circling back on the Western Conference teams, there have been rumblings of players skirting around guidelines for workouts around the league. The most relevant discussion came from a recent episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, where former Sixers player JJ Redick discussed a rumor that Lakers players were holding secret scrimmages and workouts at the gym of a wealthy NBA fan in Bel Air.

While many of the Sixers' players stayed local during quarantine, others scattered a bit during the downtime. The most noteworthy trip belongs to Ben Simmons, who spent the early part of quarantine in and out of the team facility for treatment on his injured back and has since ventured to the West Coast.

Late last week, Simmons was spotted in Los Angeles working out with other Klutch Sports clients, including Lakers star LeBron James.


This is not to assert Simmons, James, or any other individual player is likely to test positive during this initial round of evaluation, only to illustrate the importance of re-gathering players from around the country to be tested in the first place. Dealing with any positives now, weeks before they summon most of the league to one place to play a contact sport, is preferable to any further derailment to the season once they get close to the full restart.

Whether or not all of this will make the difference it needs to is still up for some debate. The league has been celebrated for the planning and precautions it has taken, but there are still some potential areas for concern. 

Certain Disney employees will not be required to stay on the NBA campus, and while a league memo says they will be screened each day with temperature and symptom checks, it goes on to say they will only be prevented from working on a given day if they are exhibiting symptoms. The league's policy is stricter for any player who wants to leave the campus: 10-14 days of self-quarantine, enhanced testing (including the deep nasal swab), and loss of salary based on games missed as a result of the absence.

And that's without mentioning the incentive for the teams outside of the current playoff picture, who reportedly don't seem to care too much about this whole restart in the first place:

Here's what seems to matter at this point: NBA players are on board with this setup, with the NBA and NBPA finalizing a deal on a revised CBA for the Orlando restart on Tuesday morning. That includes an expanded insurance plan that will cover, "career-ending injuries related to COVID-19 or conventional basketball injuries," according to Wojnarowski.

Whatever risks exist before and after they leave for Disney World, a majority of players seem to be ready to accept them and keep playing.

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