September 24, 2021 | 3:51 pm EDT Update
Dionysis Aravantinos: Giannis Antetokounmpo on his hyperextended knee injury: “It wasn’t a miracle. If you work hard, you don’t drink, don’t smoke, you work hard for 8-9 years. I shouldn’t have played in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. I was in a lot of pain. I’m still hurting. But I’ll be okay.” (Via COSMOTE TV)
A number of its players had declined to receive COVID-19 vaccine shots. The team was worried that an outbreak could derail its postseason hopes. Team executives began setting up meetings aimed at swaying the unvaccinated players. They provided data outlining the scientific benefits to them as individuals and to their families as well as information regarding the safety of the vaccine. That didn’t work.
Next, the team tried dangling the NBA’s updated and more relaxed COVID protocols, which made life easier for vaccinated players. They faced fewer tests, had fewer restrictions and, crucially, were not required to quarantine after an exposure to the virus. The unvaccinated players still didn’t budge. Finally, the team tried appealing to the players’ self-interests. There was money to be made in the postseason, it told the players, whether via playoff bonuses, contract incentives, or by flourishing under the spotlight and burnishing their respective reputations.
Now, with the 2021-22 regular season just a month away and players returning to their local markets for training camp next week, a number of NBA organizations find themselves confronting similar challenges, only with more urgency. The combination of new league protocols and more stringent local regulations could create an environment in which vaccine hesitancy becomes an issue that impacts on-court results. In other words, the final standings this season could very well be impacted by the vaccination status of players.
The NBA, according to a league spokesman, believes that around 85% of its players are currently vaccinated; National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts put the number at 90% during a July interview with Yahoo Sports. Those numbers are about 10-to-15% more than the overall rate of American adults who are vaccinated. But that still means that somewhere between 50 and 70 NBA players remain unvaccinated, an average of more than two per squad. Depending on how those players are grouped, what city they play in, and how good they are, it’s clear that any team entering the season with low vaccination rates will be at a competitive disadvantage.