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The director of sports medicine at AdvocateAurora, and sports physician for the University of Illinois-Chicago, Skiba says the long-term effects of COVID-19 have stumped doctors and wishes he had better answers for players like Tatum—who is not a client, but sounds like one. “He’s not the exception,” Skiba says. “I see that at least a half dozen times a week.” “A lot of it is a mystery,” Skiba says. “It’s like having a fleet of Ferraris. It requires a certain amount of know-how and mechanics to be able to take care of that fleet. And right now, no one's got the owner's manual.”
Every team has been impacted by COVID-19 this season. According to a study by Fansure.com that analyzed the NBA’s official injury reports, all 30 teams have listed at least one player under the COVID-19-related “Health and Safety Protocols” designation. The Celtics and Mavericks have seen the most time spent in protocol (94 player-days for Boston; 91 player-days for Dallas).
Athletes of all kinds are looking for answers. Skiba has become quite prominent in the sports medicine space on Twitter for his work on COVID-19. He has been hearing from athletes—including NBA players—through Twitter direct messages. Mostly he advises NBA players to proceed with an extremely conservative approach. Skiba has seen several instances of endurance athletes coming back too soon, which sets them back for months. He’s seen collegiate runners who regularly used to post sub-15-minute 5Ks who still can’t clock in under 30 minutes months after COVID. “The scary part is,” Skiba says,” we don’t know why that is yet.”
In the fourteen seasons since 2005-06, Stotts has identified 307 confirmed cases of respiratory illness in the NBA including the flu, cold and upper respiratory infection (Stotts excluded last season for consistency purposes). In that sample, players, as a group, missed an average of 26.5 games a season to respiratory illness. 40 games into this season, that number is 213 games lost, or eight times as much as a normal.
Shams Charania: Sources: NBA, NBPA have agreed to new protocols for COVID-19 vaccinated individuals: - No quarantine for exposure - No PCR tests on days off - Interact with any other person at home (not at bar, club, lounge) - Go to outdoor restaurants - Four guests on road without prior testing
Derrick Rose has been out seven straight games because of COVID-19 issues — with Thibodeau saying Tuesday that he’s “feeling a a lot better.” But the coach had no date for his return. NBA sources said physicians analyze each COVID-19 situation case-by-case.
Fred VanVleet practiced with the Toronto Raptors in Detroit on Tuesday, following a two-and-a-half-week absence triggered by a positive COVID-19 test result. On a Zoom call, the Raptors guard said that he had "two really bad days" of symptoms while "bunkered down" in isolation. "I tested positive, had symptoms pretty soon after that," VanVleet said. "Back sore. Body aches. I just (felt) like I just played three nights in a row. Sore, headache, my eyes were hurting. I didn't have the shortness of breath or anything like that. I had a fever for a day and a half, two days. But definitely nothing like anything I've ever had. I could feel that it was something different. I just felt the sickness, I could just feel it in me, I could feel it in my bones and my blood and my muscles."
"It was a whirlwind, definitely an experience that I won't forget," VanVleet said. "I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But I'm here, I'm alive, I'm breathing. And I know that there's a lot of people that didn't make it through COVID, so my thoughts and my heart is with the families and people that's been affected by this thing that weren't as fortunate as I was and as I am."
He expressed particular sympathy, however, for the coaches who have been away from the team, and took issue with a tweet from The Athletic's Shams Charania that cited sources saying inconsistent mask-wearing among members of the coaching staff accounted for the spread. "If I was named in that tweet as part of the blame, I would've been really, really mad," VanVleet said. "So, as a player who loves my coaching staff, I'm pissed off for them that that was even put out there. Shams is my guy, and I get it, he was reporting something that somebody told him. But whoever told him that is a few words I won't [say in] public."
Sources told ESPN that while the majority of players on the Pelicans who were eligible received the shot, not every player did. Pelicans reserve guard Sindarius Thornwell became the first player to publicly acknowledge his intent to get the vaccine with a tweet late Friday night.
"League policy requires teams to follow their state's vaccination guidelines and programs and we are fully supportive of players and team staff being vaccinated when they are eligible," an NBA spokesperson said in a statement. Around the league, some coaches have begun to probe performance staff and team doctors, asking them when a vaccine will become available. At least one team intends to put together vaccine programs for staff and players, but that could still be weeks away.
One year ago, Andy Larsen had writer’s block in the weirdest place. He was sitting on the floor of an NBA arena, his back against the scorer’s table, his Cole Haans pointed toward center court. Being present for the shutdown of the NBA season is a once-in-a-lifetime story. Larsen wanted to write something good. He just couldn’t get his vital organs on the same page. Glancing at his Fitbit, Larsen saw his heart rate climb to 100 beats per minute. But his brain was moving like Greg Ostertag. “I couldn’t get out more than a sentence at a time that made any kind of narrative sense,” he said.
Larsen, who is 29, is one of two Utah Jazz beat writers at the Salt Lake Tribune. Thanks partly to his formative years as a TrueHoop Network blogger, Larsen asks tough questions without letting delicacy get in the way. Joe Ingles has blocked Larsen on Twitter. After a Jazz loss to the Pelicans this month, Larsen asked Donovan Mitchell why he missed so many dunks. “His charm is that he lacks all social tact,” said Ben Anderson, who covers the Jazz for KSLsports.com.
March 11, 2020, was one of the great record scratches in sportswriting history. To find a decent comp, you’d have to go back to a spasm of terror at the Olympics or maybe a soccer riot. Three Jazz beat writers went to Oklahoma City to see whether the team could get a leg up on the 4-seed in the Western Conference. They wound up covering a league shutdown that signaled just how severe the pandemic would become in the United States. Personal fear became part of an NBA beat job in a way the writers had never experienced. “I like this [job] because I don’t have to see dead bodies,” said Anderson. “I like this because I don’t have to deal with the heavy part of it. The worst thing that is going to happen to me this year is that a bunch of 76ers fans are mad at me.”
The first thing to understand about March 9 is that the Jazz weren’t trying to protect the beat writers from Gobert. They were trying to protect Gobert from the beat writers. “The idea was that any of us unwashed media masses could infect Rudy Gobert,” said Larsen. Don’t put our $25 million-a-year shot blocker on the DL! When Gobert touched their recorders, the beat writers saw him offering an olive branch. As Anderson told me, “I thought that was Rudy trying to say, ‘Hey, I get we’re all being cautious. We’re all being careful. I’m going to show you I’m still willing to bridge this gap.’” “He’s telling us, ‘I’m not afraid of you. Don’t worry, guys, we’re cool,’” said Todd. “It was more like a sign of solidarity than anything.”
A year ago, the Jazz beat writers were like a lot of Americans when it came to COVID-19. “Nobody was really overly alarmed,” said Jones. On the March East Coast road trip, Todd wondered whether she and Jones should buy masks. When Larsen is on the road, Walden normally watches games on TV at home. But on March 11, he asked his boss whether he could have the night off to take his son to an All Elite Wrestling event, where they were surrounded by thousands of other fans. “I knew that there were only a handful of cases in Utah,” said Larsen. “I knew that there were limited deaths in America. I was honestly frustrated by kind of the piecemeal establishment of some of these restrictions.” After Larsen landed in Oklahoma City, he and members of the Jazz’s in-house media team went to a bar to play trivia.
In the media dining room, a source told Larsen that Gobert had been tested for COVID-19, which made the possibility that he had it slightly less remote. A few minutes later, the Jazz announced that Gobert wasn’t playing against the Thunder, after all. As tipoff approached, the writers sat in their press seats at the top of the lower bowl, watching the events that are now the subject of documentaries and oral histories. They saw the Thunder team doctor corner the refs. The PA announcer said the teams were awaiting “league confirmation” to start the game. “I’ve been covering the NBA for eight years,” said Todd. “There has never been an instance where you had to wait on league confirmation to start. That’s not a thing.”
William Lou: Nick Nurse pushes back on report that Raptors cases are linked to coaches not wearing masks: "I don't think anybody would have any idea what they're talking about, saying that. That is unfair, very speculative thing to say."
“They were in there for two minutes to test me, then they left,” Mitchell said, remembering the unsettling times from a year ago. “I was left there for the next few days wondering if I had it or not and who else I might have given it to.”
This was part of a “scary, scary time” in the words of Mitchell, who was then the Mets’ longtime director of public relations and community engagement. On March 4, he had gone to see his son, the Utah Jazz star, Donovan Mitchell Jr., play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Q: With the March 11 anniversary coming of the work stoppage, do you have any recollections of March 11? And just how fast or how slow everything went that day? NBA head doctor Leroy Sims: Yes, I do. That was a particularly tough day, knowing the impact of what a positive test could mean, for our game. And we were so early on in the process, with where testing was, and masking and everything from a public health point of view. And we were just getting a lot of information very quickly. So knowing that we were in the position that we were in, things went, as you said, both fast and slow that day. But a lot of decisions had to be made. And really from the point that we did have to decide to stop play, we really just did what the NBA does. And we started looking forward to, what's coming, what information do we need? And how can we safely restart our season, should we get to a point that we can do that.
Q: It's a year later, we have three vaccines now. Do you feel like you'd have to incentivize athletes in taking the vaccine, let alone getting them to be public about it? NBA head doctor Leroy Sims: I think the most important thing that I can do as a physician is to educate my patients, educate the public, and that is the campaign that we're on with the players. I want to make sure that they have the information that they need to make an informed decision. And that information has to be credible. And that's where I come in and give them the information from the clinical trials, try to break down how the vaccines work, kind of dispel myths, but also the message has to be credible about the messenger, as well. And that's where I come in and doing these presentations to the teams, each team I presented for half an hour or so. And being able to give them that information, hopefully be a trusted source, but then answer their questions. And the process of informed decision-making and informed consent in medicine involves telling people about the risks, the benefits, and any alternatives that are there. And so when we talk about the risks, we talk both about the risks associated with the vaccine — very small — but also the risks associated with the virus — a lot higher.
NBA head doctor Leroy Sims: So that's my approach is to arm our players, our organization with the information that they need to make an informed decision. Then when you talk about incentives of vaccination, I think that's a conversation, too. And that's my last slide when I talk about what are the potential benefits, the realistic benefits personally into the community, but also in the larger context. But I think that also breaks for me along medical lines because you see that vaccination allows people certain freedoms. And we take our cues from the CDC there. And so I again reflect medically on what the positives come as a result of vaccination. I don't feel like I necessarily, as a doctor who's advising them, needs to dangle a carrot. I think I need to give them the information that they need to make a great decision.
Q: What does herd immunity look like with the players themselves? Will a certain percentage of players need to take it for the league to achieve some level of herd immunity or is that even feasible? NBA head doctor Leroy Sims: So herd immunity is an infectious disease concept. It's not something that you can measure through a clinical trial. But the number that's tossed around for herd immunity is somewhere upwards of 75-80% of people being immunized. And herd immunity refers to immunization either through having been infected with the virus or through vaccination. And so that is, I explained what herd immunity is, and I explained it this way. Herd immunity is where one sick individual can only infect on average less than one person and say if I have coronavirus, and it's 10 of us in a room, I can infect the person to my right. But the two of us can't impact anyone else. So in essence is 80% protected, fewer than one person infected by me, that's herd immunity. So I try to give them that context. But as people move, you have people coming in and out of given spaces and players being around, it's hard to set that number and say, this is the target. But what we try to think about is to be reflective of what the definitions that we're hearing coming from the Department of Public Health, the CDC, WHO, which again, it's probably in that 80% range of people being immunized, again through either having been previous infection or current vaccination.
“I think we've done about as well as we could have, under the circumstances,” Silver told me. “I had a number of frustrations along the way in that, certainly beginning last March, we were operating somewhat in the dark.”
The league’s greatest concern surrounding the All-Star Game was not the 5% of players who traveled to Atlanta, but the other 95% who got to enjoy a five-day vacation—albeit with some restrictions on travel and continued daily testing. According to the NBA’s computer models, “it is likely we will have an uptick in positive cases when the guys come back” to their teams this week, Silver says. “There's no doubt we're introducing additional risks,” Silver says of players traveling during the break. “There's absolutely no doubt. But yet it was felt to be needed and worth it for the overall physical and mental well-being of our players.”
Fred Katz: The Wizards have no one in the health and safety protocols anymore, Scott Brooks says. Four players missed practice yesterday because they were in the protocols, as did Brooks.
Myles said his father has made a full recovery, and thanked the hospital by donating $50,000 to their COVID-19 response fund. After witnessing what his father went through, Myles was skeptical of entering the NBA bubble in Orlando. But after doing research and getting advice from close friends and family, he committed to the 2020 restart and now the modified 2020-21 season. "We're not going out to restaurants. We're not at clubs, lounges and we're not out with a normal social life. So we take it very seriously," Myles said. "Because you don't want to be that one person that messes it up for everybody."
Jones Sr. was among the first people in Michigan to contract the coronavirus, testing positive on March 25. He was quickly admitted to the hospital and died just a day later. In his honor, Bridges partnered with Josh Jackson of the Detroit Pistons and Terry Armstrong, who played last season in Australia, to sponsor families from the church this past Christmas, giving clothes, toys and shoes. "[Pastor Jones] was really a big inspiration to me because I grew up and I was living [with Jones' family] for a little while -- for like a whole summer I was staying there," Bridges said. "It was just a place for me to get away because he lived in the suburbs and I needed a getaway when I didn't want to be in the hood to go there. They just treated me like family."
Both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are quarantining for seven days from their last exposure, a Sixers team official said. As long as each continues to test negative for COVID-19, Embiid will be cleared to return once he receives a lab-based PCR negative result on Friday, while Simmons will be cleared Saturday should he meet the same criteria. The Sixers play the Bulls Thursday in Chicago and face the Wizards Friday in Washington, D.C., before playing their first game at Wells Fargo Center with fans in attendance for over a year Sunday against the Spurs.
RJ Marquez: Derrick White and Rudy Gay are no longer listed on the Spurs injury report and should be available for Wed. game at Dallas. Devin Vassell remains out for post heath and safety protocols reconditioning. SA tips off second half of season vs Mavs. #KSATsports #NBA
Shams Charania: 76ers’ Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are required to quarantine until Friday and Saturday, respectively, due to contact tracing, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. It rules Embiid out of Thursday game, and Simmons out of Thursday and Friday.
Shams Charania: As long as each continues to test negative, Joel Embiid will be available to play on Friday at Washington and Ben Simmons will be clear to return on Saturday. Both Embiid and Simmons received seven-day quarantines due to exposure to individual who tested positive for COVID-19.
Cousy, who has lived in West Palm Beach for 35 years but this winter remained at his home in Worcester, Mass., said the only time the vaccine came up in their conversation was when Fauci asked if he had received it. Cousy told him he had not but he was not worried about it and his daughter was working on it. “I wasn't concerned but I simply answered his question and that was the extent of it,” Cousy said. “He didn’t say anything further."
Brian Windhorst on the All-Star Weekend: A lot of people were talking about 'boy this is a potential super-spreader event, blah, blah...' I don't think so at all. The place NBA was worried about wasn't Atlanta: It was Miami. Last I heard, there were around 150 players who were planning to be in Miami this past weekend. And the reason the NBA knows is because the players had to have a COVID test while there, and they had to sign up for them, so the NBA had an accurate account of how many.
I was told it was in the neighborhood of 150 players in Miami over the weekend. I don't know for sure but I think the testing site was the Heat's facility. They had to give the players a schedule. It was drive-though and they had multiple lanes, and they had to give the players a schedule, like 'come at this time to get your COVID test'.
Adam Silver, N.B.A. commissioner. We were tracking it closely because of our business in China and because we have offices in Shanghai and Beijing, which we closed on Jan. 23. On Jan. 29, the Brooklyn Nets had a Chinese New Year celebration. I ran into Dr. David Ho, a virologist. I remember him saying to me, “It’s a very bad sign that Chinatown in New York is empty because you at least have a portion of the population who knows how bad this is, even if other people aren’t talking about it.”
Silver: I had just left the office, and our general counsel called me. I was on my way home, and he called and said that we’ve just gotten this positive test of Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz. I didn’t say in that sentence, “Shut everything down.” I wanted to hear what the recommendation was of the Oklahoma state health commissioner. I also spoke to Sam Presti, the Thunder president, and Clay Bennett, the Thunder owner, in the next 10 minutes because we all knew the players were taking the floor for the game in Oklahoma City.
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June 14, 2021 | 9:35 pm EDT Update