The student news site of Baruch

The Ticker

The student news site of Baruch

The Ticker

The student news site of Baruch

The Ticker

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Coronavirus Chaos Reigns in the NBA as the league scrambles to respond to pandemic

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged many aspects of daily life, especially the landscape of sports. In the United States, COVID-19 has left nothing but cancellations, suspensions and postponements in its wake. As social life in America took a back seat in March due to the coronavirus, Major League Baseball announced its postponement of its 2020 season, opting to push back Opening Day until May at the earliest. Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League both announced the suspension of their regular seasons until given permission by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More notably, Major League Soccer had only begun its season when it got postponed, while the NHL had less than a month left in its regular season before the league’s postseason would have begun when it came to a halt. The decisions to stop team play came en masse, as each league fell like dominoes. The first metaphorical domino to fall was the NBA, and while the league has taken its position at the forefront of the worldwide athletic response to the pandemic, the league and its participants have received a mixture of praise and criticism for its actions.

Play across the league was suspended on March 12 for a minimum of 30 days when a player on the Utah Jazz, who was later confirmed to be two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, tested positive for the virus before a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Public health officials in Oklahoma notified the referees of the game before deferring to the league office in New York for the final decision. The NBA’s sudden suspension left fans who were promised basketball angry, and a surreal feeling of finality amongst players, staff and fans during games in progress. 

“This is crazy. This can’t be true,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban proclaimed when interviewed about the league’s decision. “I mean, it’s not within the realm of possibility. It seemed more like out of a movie than reality.”

Commissioner Adam Silver was also praised for his aggressive decision-making in the pausing of the regular season, promising fans that the season will resume if and when public health officials deem it appropriate. There were many questions that were suddenly pushed to the forefront of conversation, such as when the season will resume and if the league will start directly with the playoffs if it does.

Salaries were an especially prominent topic of concern, not only for players but for the employees of the teams and the arenas the teams play in. In Section XXXIX of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, a “doomsday provision” is mentioned. This provision states that if the season is abandoned due to war, natural disaster, epidemic, or other acts outside the control of the league, the teams are not required to pay the portion of the players’ salaries that do not play. This gives the owners incentive to have the season cancelled, while the players will now have to fight to get the rest of the salaries if the season is abandoned. 

Games being cancelled also affects the arena workers and team employees. While some owners, like Cuban, immediately pledged to ensure the paychecks of his team and all employees associated with the Mavs, it has mainly been the players who have voluntarily taken the burden for paying their employees’ salaries. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo each donated $100,000 to help arena workers during the epidemic. New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson decided to completely cover the salaries of the employees at the Smoothie King Center in NOLA.

In general, players are given metaphorical ivory towers by the league, from which they look upon the rest of the people. Therefore, it is notable when they give back to others. However, while the players’ acknowledgment of their privilege is good, why should the players have to give back in terms of salary payments? Why should the burden of paying the arena employees’ salaries be deferred to a Pelicans’ rookie who is not even old enough to legally drink, rather than the owner of the team, Gayle Benson, who is worth $3.2 billion and one of the richest people in the state of Louisiana?

While acts of charity have garnered positive attention for the league, how the NBA has ensured the physical safety of its players has earned detraction from social media and even elected officials. As of March 22, 13 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19, including Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant. All players who had their diagnosis made public feel fine but are self-quarantining out of caution. Eight full NBA teams have been tested for the virus, as well as symptomatic individuals on other teams, according to Commissioner Silver. 

Backlash has been aimed at the association for its testing of numerous players while COVID-19 tests are being rationed in hospitals for the general population. When the Utah Jazz players and other personnel were immediately tested, they used 58 tests, which represented 20% of the total number of tests in the state of Oklahoma at the time. The most prominent criticism has come from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as the voice of the epicenter of America’s coronavirus epidemic.

“We wish them a speedy recovery. But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested,” de Blasio tweeted regarding the news that four players, including Durant, had tested positive for COVID-19.

“There’s nothing irresponsible — if you’ve got that information — about trying to get tests,” The executive director of the NBA Players Association, Michele Roberts, stated in response to de Blasio’s critique. “The problem that more of us can’t get the tests — and I’m not apologetic about saying it — in my view, that rests at the foot of the federal government.”

Roberts is not wrong. If players and personnel are worried about being exposed to the virus, they should be able to test for it. In addition, the tests conducted for the NBA were via a private third party, not necessarily the government, and its public health offices. However, that is where the NBA is failing to recognize the reality of the situation that has afforded its teams the luxury of being the vangaurds of COVID-19 response — the league’s privilege.

Beyond its status as the top professional sports league in the United States, the NBA is a multi-billion-dollar corporation that has expanded into countries throughout the world. Its athletes are multi-millionaires, vaunted as paragons of athleticism and skill on the court. They are seen as celebrities who operate outside and above the general population, reaping the benefits of such status; this includes increased access to goods and services such as COVID-19 tests.

Commissioner Silver noted how it was the public health officials of Oklahoma that ordered all Utah Jazz personnel to be tested March 11, according to an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN. However, with all due respect to Silver, he neglected to mention the underlying reasons that the team was able to be tested. The Thunder is one the most recognizable team names associated with the state, and the team can generate revenues and economic relationships with the community of its capital, Oklahoma City, that can benefit the economy of the state as a whole. Therefore, if the Jazz players were infected with COVID-19, the Thunder players could become exposed and the negative press associated with having COVID-19 can influence the perception of the team. 

This epidemic is unprecedented, at least in terms of the history of major sports leagues. There is no playbook for incident response of this magnitude and this translates to a lack of parameters for virus testing. For this testing to be rationed in general hospitals and yet given so freely amongst the NBA is disconcerting, and an examination into the NBA’s place in society is required. The NBA is for the people, and yet it and its athletes are privileged due to the money they receive from those same people. The coronavirus will change the way society views sports and what these changes will be remains to be seen.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Ticker

Comments (0)

All The Ticker Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *