Much of the conversations surrounding the NBA over the past few years have ventured beyond the court that “more than a game” has become an oft-uttered phrase. From equitable representation to Black Lives Matter, building a better league has now been replaced with creating a better world.
As the world continues to strive for a sense of normalcy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA has grappled with the issue of vaccination. Apart from masks and social distancing, vaccines have helped lessen deaths and hospitalizations, giving a much needed boost to healthcare systems and fragile economies. The sporting world wasn’t immune (no pun intended) to vaccination and everything that came with it, as it has generated a certain level of hostility in the NBA despite the league being one of the more progressive professional sports leagues. It’s a stark difference from the WNBA, which is much closer to achieving full vaccination and may have done so by the time you read this.
In recent weeks, multiple reports have come out that around 95 percent of NBA players have already received at least one shot, which for the NBA already counts as “vaccinated”. As of this writing, the league requires vaccination for everyone except the players. The select few who have yet to get their jabs have their own reasons and hesitations, but what is not up for debate is what some NBA players have had to go through because of the disease. To each his own has taken a new meaning in this instance as some are fortunate enough to recover from the virus quicker than you can say Antetokounmpo.
After his bout with COVID-19, Jayson Tatum had to resort to using an inhaler before games, something he never did as he wasn’t ashtmatic. Karl Anthony-Towns reportedly lost 50 pounds when he got COVID-19 and lost his mom and six other relatives to the disease. He also opened up about the anxiety he dealt with on the road to his recovery.
Kyrie Irving, however, has been adamant in not taking the vaccine and while he has maintained that he will do what he can to be with his team in whatever way possible, you have to wonder if this will take a toll on the team. This is certainly playing in the mind of Kevin Durant, who despite recruiting Irving, wants to win championships.
The Brooklyn Nets have more or less decided on moving on from Irving, at least in the meantime, barring him from participating in team activities until he complies with the league’s vaccination rules. This comes even as he would have been allowed to practice in the Nets’ facility and despite him technically being eligible for games outside of New York and San Francisco.
The difference in approaches between the Nets and the New York Knicks paints an interesting picture. While the Nets’ vaccination or lack thereof (in the case of Irving) has been overly documented, the Knicks have been fully vaccinated both with players and staff.
In a way, vaccination has become a competitive advantage for this season. A fully vaccinated team has a low chance of getting affected by the disease, with unvaccinated players not only risking themselves but also the rest of the team and their families.
Conversely, vaccinated players now have a better chance of not missing games due to COVID-19. That would keep one thing off their (and their coaches and management’s) minds, and the NBA has incentivized players with breakthrough infections (i.e., vaccinated persons who get afflicted with COVID-19) unless they are experiencing symptoms.
Complicating matters is that various cities have different rules in place, with Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco having stricter rules for unvaccinated individuals when it comes to indoor activities like sports. Although visiting players are exempt from the vaccine mandates of some of these cities, their movement is nevertheless restricted by both the city and the league.
Of course, nothing will beat the punitive sanctions Canada laid down for unvaccinated NBA players. Under the Canada Quarantine Act, players are not allowed to leave their hotel room unless they are attending team activities. They must also submit to a COVID-19 test upon arrival. Failure to comply with these rules merits up to $750,000 in fines and prison time of up to six months.
There’s no shame in changing one’s stance, especially as new information comes to light. On his vaccination, LeBron James admitted some skepticism and it is warranted in these uncertain times. In fact, it’s no so much as asking the right questions, but it’s also looking into the right sources. Of course in this world littered with misinformation, the right information can get lost with all the alarmists and purveyors of fake news.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to how much winning means to players and teams. With COVID-19, still prevalent caution must be exercised especially with opening night of the 2021-2022 NBA Season just days away.