Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The NBA continues its protocol theater

A masked LeBron James on the Lakers bench.
A masked LeBron James on the Lakers bench.
Image: Getty Images

It’s not just the NBA, of course. Both MLB and the NFL engaged in this showy display of just how seriously they take COVID-19 without actually taking it seriously enough and turning the money spigot off to fight it. But yesterday, the NBA increased its mask protocols making it that everyone on an NBA bench must wear one — not just inactives and coaches — until a player enters the game. A player coming off the floor is “strongly encouraged” to put a mask on but isn’t yet required.

While there probably is some value in having more people on television wearing masks in a country where far too many paint-huffers still think this is some plot by a nefarious government on Jupiter, the real trouble is still on the court. Be it practice or games, the hardest breathing is taking place while exerting on the floor. That’s where players come into contact with each other. That’s why any gym that’s open, at least where people haven’t totally watched their brains drip out their ears, require masks everywhere. But it would be really hard to play NBA basketball through a mask, wouldn’t it?

It’s all theatrical. There’s only one way to stay safe, and it’s the one that the league won’t take, just like no other league before it would take. No league has seen team-to-team transmission yet, though that seems like blind/stupid luck more than design.

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It’s not exclusive to here. The U.K. just had to enter a total lockdown for the next six weeks, and yet the Premier League will continue unencumbered for … well, reasons. There is a real fear that U.K. hospitals will be overwhelmed and unable to accept all patients who need it, and that’s a country with universal health care, but the football will continue. So you see, we’re not alone in being totally fucked in the head.

It’s easy to say the players know what they signed up for and are taking on the risk fully informed, but every other day we get some story or Instagram post of some dolt out and about in public without a mask. So do they really understand? Or is that just what we tell ourselves to feel better about watching the 76ers and Mavericks?

It’s a mess, but it’s our mess, and as long as no one is going to make us clean it up and we don’t get bit by whatever rodent has decided to take up residence in it, we’ll think we’re OK.


On to actual action, and the World Juniors are just about complete, with Canada and the U.S. set to contest the final tonight in Edmonton. Canada laced Russia 5-0 in the first semifinal yesterday, while the U.S. found the sledding much tougher against Finland. The U.S. blew a 3-1 lead in the third period, giving up the tying goal with four minutes left. But they were able to pull their ass out of a sling with barely a minute left on a goal from Arthur Kaliyev.

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Canada-USA is the final this tournament always wants. It’s usually a pretty damn good game when they face each other at this stage, and the clamor around it follows a similar pattern. If Canada wins, everyone north of the 49th parallel loses their mud and tries to goad anyone south of it into actually caring, while if they lose they get defensive about it still being their game and half the U.S. team plays for free for their junior teams anyway and actually they’re not mad they’re laughing. Meanwhile there are 16 people in the U.S. who care about this thing at all. Either way, things always devolve into an argument about socialized medicine.

But hey, should be a hell of a game. It’s a chance for Ducks and Sabres fans to see the possible pivot points for their teams in the future in Dylan Cozens (CAN) and Trevor Zegras (USA), respectively, who are the two leading scorers in the tournament. And as there might not be any junior hockey this year and college hockey has been severely limited, it’s a last chance for a lot of players to improve their draft standing. Check it out if you’ve got nothing better to do, which you don’t.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.

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