NBA teams that do not comply with league rules designed to minimize the spread of the coronavirus this season could face major penalties such as forfeiting games or draft picks, the league told its franchises Saturday.
The league also said that it and the National Basketball Players Association will discuss players, coaches and other staff “being required to receive a coronavirus vaccine” when it becomes available, strongly urged teams to encourage players and personnel to get flu shots, and said that effective immediately Tier 1 and Tier 2 personnel — which basically means players, coaches and some essential staff — must avoid bars, lounges, clubs even if food is served, most live entertainment or gaming venues, public gyms, spas and pool areas.
Also off-limits: indoor gatherings of 15 or more people. Those rules apply both when teams are at home and when they are on the road, the NBA said. Preseason games start Friday and the regular season begins Dec. 22.
The protocols document, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, has much more detail than the draft version that was distributed to teams last weekend. The rules and protocols in the updated document — which even includes examples of how seating charts on planes and buses could be set up — have been agreed upon by the NBA and the NBPA.
“The biggest thing is obviously, from what we’ve been told, is the testing on the daily,” Philadelphia forward Tobias Harris said earlier in the week as the protocols were being finalized. “And guys holding each other accountable to be safe and limit exposure from outside people or whatever. For me, it’s a bit confusing because you never know. You could go into a grocery store and you may get the virus somehow, right? So, I think it’s a fine line, but I think we have to do our best to follow protocol, keep each other safe, keep the team safe and just see how it plays out.”
Starting Sunday, the testing program — players and coaches will be checked daily, and 48 players were found to be positive before training camps even began — will begin to include immediate families, if they so desire. Teams have been told by the NBA to work with BioReference, the league’s testing provider, to make voluntary PCR testing available for all household members of Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals twice a week. The household members of those Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals are also being urged to get flu shots.
“We’re just trying to follow the guidelines, do it as best we can,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said earlier in the week. “It’s not easy, but everybody’s got to go through it. We’re just trying to navigate our way through it.”
The league made clear in the final protocols that if teams don’t take the health and safety rules seriously, a serious price will be paid.
As written in the new rules: “Protocol violations that result in COVID-19 spread that requires adjustments to the NBA game schedule or otherwise impacts any other team may subject the violating team to additional penalties, which may include fines, suspensions, adjustment or loss of draft choices, and/or game forfeiture.”
The NFL has fined teams and coaches for not wearing masks and following protocols; just in the last week, the New England Patriots were fined $350,000 for violations and the New Orleans Saints were fined $500,000 plus had a seventh-round pick taken away following a locker room celebration in which they were not wearing masks.
One key addition to the final version of the NBA protocols: Teams, when they go on the road, will have some freedoms and will not be forced to stay in their hotels when not practicing or playing.
The league and the union will work with teams to identify at least three eateries in all markets that will be designated as “approved restaurants” for meals on the road. That doesn’t necessarily mean people will be limited; members of traveling parties will be allowed by the league to “go to any restaurant on the road, so long as the restaurant complies with all state and local laws or regulations related to COVID-19” — though teams could also institute their own restrictions if they deem it necessary.
“I’m not the CDC. I’m not a doctor,” Harris said. “But I’m going to wear my mask and follow my protocol and do what I’m kind of told at this point, and then hopefully we have a full season.”