Isolating players to resume the NBA season sounds like a closed book if National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts is telling the story.
In an interview with ESPN, Roberts said the conversations around bringing players back from a two-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic are evolving into risk mitigation discussions. A call with players is scheduled for Friday, the date the NBA approved certain markets for reopening practice facilities on a limited basis with only a tepid response.
One plan floated in recent weeks was isolating players at a hotel or resort location — the Bahamas and Disney World were discussed, as was Las Vegas — as commissioner Adam Silver invited thoughts and ideas on the best way to get the 2019-20 season back on track.
“Are we going to arm guards around the hotel?” Roberts asked ESPN. “That sounds like incarceration to me.”
Silver has since decided that plan will not work based on response from players, Roberts said.
Some owners aren’t even ready to open their practice facilities for individual workouts, including the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban. He said the inability to test all players and staff would prohibit the franchise from opening the facility anytime soon.
“This is a world with the virus,” Roberts said. “And we have to figure out a way to work, play and live in a world with the virus. The questions have now evolved from, ‘Are we going to play again?’ to, ‘If we play, what are the risks going to look like?’”
Among challenges Silver and Roberts face inching toward a return is managing individual and team concerns. The best risk-aversion weapon for the NBA is mass testing.
But testing is a social issue, with political strings attached, that the NBA doesn’t want to wade into at the moment. The NBA could purchase tests in high volume but that would bring about criticism from the general public, especially in areas where tests still aren’t readily available.
Roberts is sensitive to the idea that the league and players association will make broad decisions but individual comfort with the resulting plan is not guaranteed.
“It’s an issue employers everywhere are going to have to confront,” Roberts said. “Because I guarantee there’s going to be at least one player, if not many more than that, that are going to have genuine concerns about their safety. We have to figure out what the response is to that. It’s a tough one, and I don’t pretend that I have an answer to that one yet.”
—Field Level Media