Mass testing will clearly be the fulcrum of the National Basketball Association’s safety protocols moving forward. With training camp having already begun and other ancillary activities ramping up heading into the start of the 2020-21 season in two weeks, officials and players are being trusted to follow the league’s 134-page “guide” on navigating the new competitive environment. There will be no bubble protection, however — which is to say rules designed to maintain the schedule, already under pressure off a quick turnaround and compressed to address new realities, figure to be followed in the beach.
Indeed, the NBA isn’t going for zero positive results. Unlike the setup it controlled throughout the play-ins and playoffs at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the league knows there are simply too many extraneous variables for it to bat 1.000. Rather, it’s hoping for manageable setbacks. It’s trying to prepare for every conceivable scenario in recognition of the complexities of running a tournament in multiple cities covered by differing, even contradictory, regulations. And, outside of logistics, it needs to deal with a bigger headache: People are people, and likely to backslide by accident or by design.
Take, for instance, the manner in which All-Star James Harden saw fit to comport himself over the last week. In his desire to force the Rockets to trade him, he decided to be a no-show at the start of training camp. Fine; it can be argued that he’s just looking out for Number One, his status as a Forty-Million-Dollar Man notwithstanding. Adding injury to insult, however, was the fact that he instead opted to attend a party in Atlanta and then while the time away in Las Vegas in violation of quarantine orders. For good measure, he also deemed himself above the supposedly unbreakable directives of keeping distance and wearing a mask.
Per the front office, Harden now has to take, and pass, no less than six tests for the virus before being cleared for practice. All things considered, his flippant attitude is not merely a Rockets problem. It’s an NBA problem — one that, in the worst-case scenario, can be compounded by 449 other players on the payroll of its franchises. Which is why the league will be navigating a logistical and public relations nightmare, and why, for all the preparations it has painstakingly made, nothing is etched in stone. It’s only as strong as its weakest link. No wonder all and sundry are crossing their fingers.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.