Last year, between the Bubble and a season full of mandates that included no fans, or only the vaccinated ones, the NBA did a pretty good job at protecting their league against COVID-19.
This year, not so much.
Something else happened last year, too. Iman Shumpert did a radio interview in which he told a story about how, early in his career, he did a good job guarding Kobe Bryant… until the fourth quarter. In this scenario, think of Shumpert as the NBA and Bryant as COVID-19 — something you likely couldn’t stop, and probably won’t be able to contain, either.
“I guarded Kobe in the Garden,” Shumpert explained during an interview on HOT 97.
“I can’t remember how much he had, but I know I had multiple steals against him, to where in the game, in my head, all I’m thinking of is when I’m having this conversation with my brother after the game, how I’m going to tell him how I stole a ball from Kobe. How I stripped Kobe before he was going to take a shot… I’m so geeked.”
“The fourth quarter starts, and Kobe said, ‘You had a great game.’ He said, ‘You had a great game, young fella.’”
After three-quarters of containment, Bryant had this way with Shumpert and the Knicks in the fourth quarter. It’s almost a carbon copy of how the virus is doing the NBA after initially doing so well. Here are some of the players and coaches that have recently been put in league’s health and safety protocols: Giannis, Wesley Matthews, Donte DiVincenzo, James Harden, Bruce Brown, Alvin Gentry, Georges Niang, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, Langston Galloway, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Bembry, Jevon Carter, James Johnson, Paul Millsap, and 10 players from the Chicago Bulls — and that’s not even the full list.
In October 2020, which feels so long ago, Adam Silver told ESPN this:
As Dr. Fauci says, the virus will decide. If there truly is a second wave, things like that could push us back. We’re also very mindful that while it’s fantastic what’s happened in this bubble, we love our fans and want to bring them back into the arena and we want to do it safely. So if there are advancements right on the horizon. That will be a reason to wait.
At the top of the year, I wrote about how COVID-19 would define Adam Silver’s legacy, as he steered the league through the Bubble without a single positive test, as the league was about to start letting fans in the arena soon, followed by the 2021-2022 season where full capacity has taken place. But, what we didn’t know, was that the league was already crumbling to the virus during the summer in the NBA Finals, due to a report from Rolling Stone, titled “The Secret Covid Outbreak That Shot Fear Through the NBA Finals.”
According to the report, at least 17 sources confirmed that over a dozen people connected to the Bucks and Suns tested positive during the Finals, which included a Giannis scare — the Finals MVP.
Check out this part:
“We were very concerned that Giannis wasn’t vaccinated and that, with all of this exposure from all these different people,” the franchise cornerstone — a one-man band and the new face of the NBA — might get infected, or at least contact-traced by the NBA and forced to quarantine, potentially altering the course of sports history. “It hit everybody pretty quickly, but the biggest thing was: Just make sure Giannis tests negative.”
Earlier this week, ESPN reported that NBA executives are already expecting the numbers to keep rising through the holidays, as at least 51 players have been in the health and safety protocols this season, as well as the postponement of multiple NBA and G League games.
“We want control. And I think the confusion is, at what level of control are you going to accept it in its endemicity?” asked Fauci in November. He followed that up by saying that folks will just have to “deal with it” if more booster shots are necessary earlier this week.
Fourteen months ago, the NBA’s commissioner told us that the virus was going to dictate how the league would operate in a pandemic. And as we approach our third year in a pandemic, it just feels like Adam Silver and every other sports league is just making it up as they go. It’s like they’re in the middle of an isolation play trying to defend Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter with no help in sight — good luck.