Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James are back in action. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James are back in action. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

After three weeks of isolation, ’scrimmages’ it’s showtime for the NBA

By Stuart Hess Time of article published Jul 30, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Basketball in a bubble, tips off at Disney World just after midnight, and while the National Basketball Association has been lauded for its efforts in getting the league restarted, some ethical questions have arisen.

The NBA’s deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, in a global telephonic press conference on Wednesday, pointed out how the organisation had been in touch with various sports leagues around the world, to gain an understanding of how best to create a ‘bio bubble.’

“There’s been a tremendous amount of sharing amongst leagues,” said Tatum. “I remember with the Bundesliga when they created their protocols, I was on the phone with them on a regular basis, and we shared information and shared protocols together.”

“In this particular scenario, we were not competing with each other, but we were competing together to fight the coronavirus, and I think if there’s learnings here that we can share with others so that we can create safe and healthy environments for athletes and for sport, we’re all for it,” Tatum added. “ I think that the world is a better place when there are sports, when there’s competition, and we have a collective responsibility to be able to do it in a safe and healthy way.”

From the NBA’s perspective, and that of other sports leagues including South Africa’s Premier Soccer League that will be restarting on August 8, is indeed good. The ethical question does hang like a cloud over all those sports: How do they continue playing and testing regularly when so many of the people who would be spectators are either suffering with Covid-19 or can’t get tested because sportsmen are utilising those facilities?

In the case of the NBA, it is restarting in a state - Florida - where Covid-19 cases have been rising rapidly in the last month.

Tatum wasn’t clear on that, other than to say that within the ‘bubble’ all protocols were working. Players and officials, NBA staff and media have all had to isolate for the last three weeks, with regular testing being done at the facility. Warm-up games - known as scrimmages in the US - have been held in the last week, to help players shake off the cobwebs and games will start on Thursday night (Friday morning African time) as the league looks to complete its schedule - including play-offs and the Finals - by October 13.

Tatum didn’t want to address what would happen if there were to be an outbreak inside the bubble. “We have a set of protocols that we’ve put in place, and depending on any situations that arise, we have a panel of experts, of infectious disease specialists, of epidemiologists, of virologists, and we’re working with the local public health officials, and it really is case specific. So if something were to happen, we would have to dive into the specifics of that case or those cases to determine what our next steps would be,” he said.

The League restarts at 12.30am (Africa time) with the Utah Jazz against the New Orleans Pelicans followed by a lip-smacking encounter between the two teams who were top of the Western Conference rankings before the stoppage, Lebron James’ LA Lakers against Kawhi Leonard’s LA Clippers.

The re-jigged start featuring 22 teams instead of the usual 30 - will have seeding games, to determine the 16 teams who will make the play-offs and what positions they will have for those play-offs. The first round of the play-offs will start on August 17.

No spectators will be allowed inside the three arenas at Disney World where games will be played, but Tatum said a partnership with Microsoft would allow spectators to be present ‘virtually.’ “It's going to be different than having 15,000 or 20,000 fans in the arena, but our players are world-class athletes,

and they will adjust to that environment. And they have been adjusting to that environment with the scrimmage games that have been taking place over the last week.”

* Basketball fans in South Africa can follow the NBA on ESPN (available on DsTV channels 218 and 219) and e-tv.


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