COVID, vaccine hot topics in NBA
Utah center Rudy Gobert revealed that after much deliberation, he decided to become vaccinated. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has gotten his booster shot already. Boston coach Ime Udoka had his shots and tested positive for COVID-19 anyway.
And Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving is keeping everyone guessing.
The NBA season arrived Monday with media days in advance of training camp, with the ongoing pandemic as much if not even more of a topic than basketball. This will be the third season affected at least in part by the pandemic, almost certainly not the last, and some teams revealed that their rosters are 100% vaccinated entering the season.
“When I felt like it was the right time, I did it,” said Gobert – the first NBA player who was known to test positive for COVID-19, back on March 11, 2020.
The Spurs have a fully vaccinated roster, Popovich said. The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers said last week that they would have the same, and some other clubs – including Utah, Portland, Houston and Charlotte – said they were at the 100% mark.
Other teams are close to being fully vaccinated.
Miami will be by the start of the season, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity Monday because the Heat vaccine rate has not publicly revealed by the team.
Toronto general manager Bobby Webster said the Raptors are “one dose” away from being there, as did Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk.
Leaguewide, the rate is believed to be around 90% and climbing.
“There is still a lot of stuff going on out there,” Popovich said. “You see all the bumps in cases here and there. You see all the areas where people are not vaccinated. It's a double-edged sword. I think we are in good shape right now. We're trying to do everything we can to make sure we can be safe, which means we've got to be disciplined day to day to day to day.”
Players who are vaccinated will not be tested often; unvaccinated players will be tested on all practice days and travel days, and at least once on game days.
The list of unvaccinated players includes Washington's Bradley Beal – who missed out on the chance to play for an Olympic gold medal with USA Basketball this summer after testing positive.
Beal said he remains unvaccinated for “personal reasons,” and has questions about why someone can still contract the virus even after being vaccinated.
“Would I love to sit here and tell you that we're 100% vaccinated? I'd be thrilled about that,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “The fact is that we're not, and that's all I'll say on that matter regarding who is and who's not. It's a delicate balance. It is not my place to tell somebody that they have to be vaccinated.”
Irving is among the individuals at the center of that debate in the NBA right now.
By local rule in New York, to play for the Nets at home this season Irving would have to be vaccinated or receive an exemption – something that Golden State's Andrew Wiggins sought from the NBA unsuccessfully last week because San Francisco has similar rules. Irving wasn't at media day in Brooklyn on Monday, instead appearing remotely and refusing to say if he plans to play in home games.
“Please respect my privacy,” Irving said.
Added Nets forward Kevin Durant, at media day: “That's on Kyrie. That's his personal decision.”
Irving is keeping his status and reasoning private. Orlando's Jonathan Isaac is not.
Isaac, whose mother works in health care, has had COVID-19 already. He is not vaccinated, but insisted he is not anti-vaccine, anti-medicine, or antiscience, either.
“I thank God, I'm grateful, that I live in a society where vaccines are possible and we can protect ourselves and have the means to protect ourselves in the first place,” Isaac said. “That being said, it is my belief that the vaccine status of every person should be their own choice. … I'm not ashamed to say that I'm uncomfortable with taking the vaccine at this time.”
Media day tends to have some loose moments, and Durant was at the forefront of one of those when he was asked why people call him “KD.” The reporter – “Dave from Basketball Digest” – was none other than David Letterman, who got laughs from media that were present even though Durant didn't outwardly show any happiness with the line of questioning.
Popovich joined San Antonio reporters to ask the hard-hitting question of why shooting matters in basketball, and in Miami, Jimmy Butler crashed Kyle Lowry's first Heat availability in an effort to get him to endorse his coffee brand.
“He's going to pay me very handsomely,” Lowry said.
There were also reminders that the pandemic isn't over.
Udoka, entering his first season as Celtics' coach, is wrapping up a 10-day quarantine after testing positive and plans to be at the team's first practice Tuesday. Phoenix's Devin Booker wasn't at Suns media day, already in the league's health and safety protocols – indicating some sort of testing or contact-tracing issue.
But camps are opening. A regular 82game season is planned. Fans will be back in buildings. Popovich, the NBA's longest-tenured current coach who said he qualified for his booster shot already because he's in his 90s – he's really only 72 – may have summed up the order of things in the NBA now perfectly with this assessment: “Normalcy, with a good dose of caution.”
“I think getting vaccinated is your choice,” Indiana guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “I think it's absolutely your choice. But at the same time, we're trying to protect the entire NBA. Not just our team, but the entire NBA.”