July is supposed to be a magical month in the N.B.A. The mere mention of it evokes images of the feast known as free agency that, as we all understand by now, means as much (or more) to some fans as the games themselves.
The calendar flipped Wednesday, but this is 2020, which immediately tells you that the coming month will be unlike any previous July in league history — and presumably no great source of anticipation.
The mood of the moment was perhaps best capsulized by Fred VanVleet, whose Toronto Raptors have already convened in Florida to prepare for the 22-team restart of the N.B.A. season at Walt Disney World at the end of July.
“It sounded good a month or two ago,” VanVleet said on a Monday conference call, referring to the N.B.A.’s plans to reboot the 2019-20 season in a contained environment on the Disney campus.
“Not so much right before we got ready to leave,” he added.
The Raptors came together last week at Florida Gulf Coast University because Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine rule for anyone who enters the country made it impossible for the N.B.A.’s reigning champions to begin their Disney World preparations in their own practice gym. The rest of the 22 teams are scheduled to arrive next week.
Raptors Coach Nick Nurse and Masai Ujiri, Toronto’s team president, have repeatedly insisted that their team has been greeted by a safe environment at the hotel in Fort Myers, Fla., where they — and no one else — are staying until they can relocate to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando next week.
But the vibe is far different in Brooklyn, where two prominent Nets players — Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan — revealed late Monday that they had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The disclosures from Dinwiddie and Jordan came one day after a Nets veteran, Wilson Chandler, said that he was opting out of the restart for family reasons and over coronavirus concerns. The Nets have thus emerged as the N.B.A.’s first known test case of a reunited team that must deal with the psychological effects, on top of all the health implications, of an outbreak in their camp.
How will teammates, coaches and team staffers react to the news that multiple players have to be quarantined after testing positive? As we’ve been discussing in this newsletter for months now, I’ve long believed that the answer to that question could only be ascertained in real time, when the situation actually materialized.
The surprise: The N.B.A. didn’t even make it to the bubble before a team had to face it.
General Manager Sean Marks told reporters on Wednesday that the team was still committed to participating in the restart. Yet you can safely presume that the Nets never imagined marking the one-year anniversary of the free-agent commitments they officially received from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on June 30, 2019 — maybe the greatest day in franchise history — in such downbeat fashion.
As recently as Friday, N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, expressed relief on a call with reporters after the league announced that only 16 of the 302 players tested by their teams on June 23 had positive results. Just a few days later, given the Nets’ plight and the Denver Nuggets’ decision to close their practice facility after multiple positive coronavirus tests among unnamed members of their planned Florida traveling party, anxiety is on the rebound. Big time.
Positive tests were not a surprise. The two-week stay for teams in their home markets before reporting to Florida, after all, was designed in hopes of isolating as many of those positive cases as possible before anyone arrived at the Disney complex. Yet it is only now, as the possibility of multiple positive tests for any given team has become a reality, that players and other restart participants can gauge how comfortable they are with the enormity of the challenge.
Roberts insisted last Friday that the N.B.A. and the players’ union have done “the best we can do to mitigate the risk of an infection on our players and our teams and our staffs.”
“If I didn’t feel that, I would be recommending to Chris and to the players to stay home,” Roberts said, mentioning the union president, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul. “I feel that, and so I can sleep at night.”
The resolve of an entire league is nonetheless being tested daily. July may typically be a magical time in the N.B.A., and Disney World is certainly supposed to be a magical place, but as VanVleet so aptly put it during Monday’s conference call: “That’s been 2020 for us.”
T.O. Souryal, a former president of the N.B.A. Physicians Association who spent 22 years as the Dallas Mavericks’ team doctor, offered a sobering reminder in a chat we had on Sunday.
“Never forget that we are in the midst of a global pandemic where nearly 125,000 Americans have lost their lives so far,” Souryal said. The death toll has now eclipsed 126,000 in the U.S. “Until we have a functioning vaccine or treatment, there are no good options for a return to normal — sports or otherwise.
“On the surface, the concept of an ‘isolation bubble’ seems to be a good option for the N.B.A.,” Souryal continued. “Frankly, it’s probably the only option. But as the numbers of coronavirus cases in Florida rise, so does the risk of infections penetrating that bubble. Then the questions come up: How many positive cases can one team tolerate before being uncompetitive? How many infections can the league tolerate before they are forced to stop play again? Can the league accept just one hospitalization or, God forbid, a death?
“For this population of N.B.A. athletes, the medical risk is very low, but they can infect others who may be much more vulnerable. This is a dangerous virus that can kill. And as long as death is on the table, then the stakes are very high — almost unacceptable, in my opinion.
“Adam Silver and those surrounding him are well aware of the stakes. Based on my experience with N.B.A. administrators, I have confidence that they will do the right thing.”
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You ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at email@example.com. (Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.)
Q: Why are basketball players acting like they’ve never been away from the N.B.A. for a long period of time? Don’t we always have an off-season? This was basically their off-season. — @MoneyDre123 from Twitter
Stein: I imagine this was a response to the recent Twitter barbs exchanged between the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jared Dudley and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley. Dudley lamented a lack of discussion about the potential for players sustaining “soft tissue injuries,” like sprains and tendinitis, given the long layoff many players have endured, which I addressed with a tweet of my own, followed by Beverley’s retort that “basketball is a year-round sport.”
If you have been following along in the newsletter over the past few weeks, you have probably already surmised that I back Dudley’s contention that this is a major issue. The past few months have been nothing like the typical N.B.A. off-season, which should explain why I’ve been bringing up the mere 19-day window teams in Florida will have for five-on-five preparatory play.
Even the players who managed to play some unauthorized pickup basketball in May and June as it became apparent that the N.B.A. was nearing a return haven’t played nearly as much as they would have in the month leading up to a typical training camp. So there is no way to compare the hiatus forced by the coronavirus outbreak to anything in the usual N.B.A. calendar.
I found it instructive to read what Arturs Kalnitis, the agent for Washington’s Davis Bertans, told HoopsHype.com to explain Bertans’s decision not to join the Wizards at Disney World as he awaits a potentially lucrative deal once free agency starts in October:
“After not playing for four months, a few weeks isn’t enough time to get ready and return to playing,” Kalnitis said. “We’re not the only ones who are concerned about this.”
It seems reasonable to assume that at least some of Beverley’s pushback was inspired by the animus that flows out of the L.A. teams’ blossoming rivalry. The reality, though, is that there isn’t a team that won’t wish it had more full-speed prep time once the games start.
Updated June 30, 2020
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?
A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
What is pandemic paid leave?
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
Q: It’s awesome that the N.B.A. is coming back, but how can we watch all of these games? Hopefully they’re not spread across all the regional sports networks. — Will Fenton
Stein: One of the few proclamations that can be confidently made as Bubble Ball draws near is that television coverage of the N.B.A. restart will be readily available.
There are 88 seeding games in a span of up to 16 days.
The league has placed 52 of them on national television. TNT (18) and ESPN (17) are getting 35 of those broadcasts in the build-up to the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin Aug. 17.
There will be as many as seven games a day in the early stages at Disney World and, as a bonus, Zion Williamson will have the opening night stage that a knee injury robbed from him in October. Williamson didn’t get to play in Toronto on Oct. 22 in the official season opener, but he’ll obviously be the star attraction when Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans face the Utah Jazz on July 30 on TNT.
The better question, Will, really is: How will we find the time to watch all of these games?
Q: In last week’s newsletter, you mentioned a vintage Buffalo Sabres Starter jacket you recently purchased. As a lifelong Sabres fan and Western New York resident, I’d love to see it. — Bryce Davis (Rochester, N.Y.)
Stein: A picture, as requested, is enclosed.
The jacket, as I wrote previously, is so pristine and gorgeous in the plastic that I can’t even think about wearing it. It’s thus displayed at my house as a treasured time capsule from my teenage and college years — and better days for the Sabres.
Alex, my 16-year-old son, taught me a few years ago about the “one to rock, one to stock” philosophy. I’ve been a collector of sports memorabilia for more than 40 years, but I had never heard it put that way until my sneakerhead son educated me on the phrase.
I totally subscribe to that maxim now. So I am on the hunt for another Sabres Starter jacket in mint (or gently used) condition that can actually go into my rotation rather than function solely as a home museum piece. Here’s hoping I will be able to reveal in a future newsletter that the Irrational eBay Purchase of the Month is indeed “one to rock.”
Vince Carter, who made his retirement official last week, has played at least one regular-season game against a whopping 37 percent of the players in N.B.A. history. The only N.B.A. player to play in four different decades, Carter matched up against a record 1,668 of the league’s 4,489 players, according to my good pal Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13).
Carter is third in league history in regular-season games played, with 1,541 — 70 behind the career leader Robert Parish (1,611) and 19 behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560). The first and last seasons of Carter’s career were curtailed by events beyond his control, starting with the 1998 N.B.A. lockout that reduced his rookie season to 50 games and capped by this season’s coronavirus outbreak.
Luguentz Dort’s four-year, $5.4 million contract signed last week with Oklahoma City included only $2.3 million in guaranteed money — widely regarded as a quite favorable deal for the Thunder. Dort began this season on a two-way contract but had secured a spot in Coach Billy Donovan’s regular rotation by the time the N.B.A. season was suspended indefinitely on March 11. Oklahoma City is 16-5 with Dort in the starting lineup.
After the signing of J.R. Smith is officially announced Wednesday, 33 percent of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 18-man roster (including players on two-way contracts) will be represented by Klutch Sports, the agency led by Rich Paul. The six Klutch clients are: Smith, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dion Waiters and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Leave it to the tireless Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) of The Associated Press to tabulate that 26 players who will participate in the N.B.A. restart at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex played there in the annual college Thanksgiving tournament. Among them: Miami’s Jimmy Butler (Marquette in 2009) and Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga in 2012), Boston’s Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State in 2013) and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (Texas A&M in 2010).
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