It was July 4, 2021, and a franchise secret at the time, according to multiple officials familiar with the inner-workings of the Bucks, was that nobody outside of a small braintrust knew whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo was vaccinated against Covid-19. The Delta variant was beginning to raise fresh hell. And the superstar’s vaccine secret — combined with what a high-ranking official who was just outside the braintrust called “hiccups” from Bucks management — stoked fear among employees across the franchise: That the highly contagious strain might come for them all… but especially for the most dominant athlete in the world.
The official recalls Milwaukee’s Delta blues: “We were very concerned that Giannis wasn’t vaccinated and that, with all of this exposure from all these different people,” the franchise cornerstone — a one-man band and the new face of the NBA — might get infected, or at least contact-traced by the NBA and forced to quarantine, potentially altering the course of sports history. “It hit everybody pretty quickly, but the biggest thing was: Just make sure Giannis tests negative.”
All season long, the Bucks had been almost fanatical in adhering to the league’s draconian virus protocols. The franchise had not permitted such passengers to join players on the road during the first three rounds of the playoffs, as they hunkered down with a long-standing mantra: Stay locked in. The temptation of Milwaukee’s first NBA title in 50 years, however, opened the Delta floodgates. “Of course we’re bringing our families,” three people remember head coach Mike Budenholzer telling the team. “It’s the Finals!”
When presented with the findings of a Rolling Stone investigation, the NBA’s Covid czar David Weiss and Alex Lasry, who was the Bucks’ senior vice president until he announced a U.S. Senate campaign earlier this year, acknowledged the previously unreported scale of a championship cluster. “This is the NBA Finals,” Lasry told Rolling Stone in an interview last week, on his way back from Joe Biden’s White House celebration of the Bucks’ eventual championship. “The last thing we need is for any of our guys — from the coach to the trainers to any of the players — is to be out. And even when you’re trying to be as responsible as possible, this virus is still going to make its way through.”
Upwards of a dozen people associated with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns tested positive for Covid-19 during the Finals, according to league sources and four team officials with knowledge of the situation: six vaccinated staffers, including coaching and medical staffers from the Bucks; family members and people in both franchise entourages; and one player, Giannis’ brother and teammate Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks refused to confirm a possibly frightening irony: Two officials say that a Milwaukee official responsible for keeping the team Covid-free tested positive during the Finals himself. “Hearing that the Suns also had issues, too, was a little bit scary,” says a second NBA official who was traveling with the Bucks. “It felt like Covid just dropped back out of the sky, came out of nowhere and just tried its best to ruin the Finals.”
Head coach Mike Budenholzer, recalls a source in attendance, encouraged his team to spend time with their guests: “Bud was super-imperative that everybody goes and sits with their family members, so everybody actually went out for the most part and spent time with their friends and family who came on the trip on the charter. So we were fully interactive with those people.” (Budenholzer’s agent referred a request for comment to the Bucks, who declined to comment.)
Eric Nehm: Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said he expects Middleton to play tomorrow night vs. the Lakers and confirmed there will be a ramp-up period for Middleton as they get him back in the fold. That would suggest minutes limits on how first few games, but Bud did not provide details.
Eric Nehm: Asked Khris Middleton whether or not he had any symptoms of COVID-19. Middleton: “Yeah. I had a couple symptoms. The night I went home, I felt sick. Maybe two days afterward, I felt sick. After that then, I started to get back to my normal self.”
Samantha Pell: New: Effective Nov. 22, fans will no longer be required to wear masks while at Capital One Arena, per @MSE. NBA-specific: “Pursuant to NBA mandates, fans will still be required to wear masks in player-proximate seating areas for Wizards games.”
As announced two weeks ago, less-stringent COVID-19 protocols will go into effect starting Monday night for fans at Mavericks games in American Airlines Center. On Monday morning, the franchise issued a news release updating the details of the protocols. The franchise also announced that pediatric vaccine doses will be available for children 5-to-11 years old starting at Monday night’s game against Denver, which tips off at 7 p.m.
Tom Orsborn: Regarding whether Poeltl will return for for one of the final two games of this three-game trip, Pop says: "I think he might be available for the Clipper game (on Tuesday). We'll see. It's close." Spurs end the trip in Minneapolis on Thursday night.
Keith Pompey: #GoodNewsForTheSixerFlow: Isaiah Joe has cleared #NBA protocols and will join the team in Indianapolis today, according to a source. He is expected to go through a workout pregame and will be questionable for tonight.
Chris Fedor: #Cavs Kevin Love has been cleared to return to the team environment and can sit on the bench tonight. His return to play has not yet been determined tho.
Jeff McDonald: Pop says it's "50-50" whether Jakob Poeltl will accompany the team on the three-game road trip that begins Sunday in LA. Poeltl must pass additional tests in order to clear health and safety protocols.
Jim Owczarski: On a positive level, #Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said there’s a chance Khris Middleton joins the team in Atlanta.
Chris Fedor: So there’s never been a question about this given the window that we are still in but #Cavs Kevin Love and Lauri Markkanen are still out because of the health and safety protocols.
Ky Carlin: Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle remain out for tomorrow’s matchup with the Pacers due to the health and safety protocols Ben Simmons remains out due to personal reasons #Sixers
Tom Orsborn: Pop on Jock Landale suffering another setback, this time an entry into health & safety protocols after enduring a preseason concussion: "It’s really tough for him. He was just starting to play in three-on-three and get his legs back and all that and then this happens.”
Tom Orsborn: Regarding a timeline for Landale's return, Pop said: “(Landale) is just like Jakob (also in health & safety protocols) - when they are done, they are done. I don’t know when that is.”
In a conversation with his former nemesis, Charles Barkley, Tuesday night, Kevin Durant said that while the Nets think Kyrie Irving will eventually return to the team, he offered some doubt, adding, “who knows.” The Nets MVP candidate also said that “for now,” the team has to move on and play with “the guys we have here.”
“It’s going well. I mean, I think we understand the situation we’re in, and a lot of guys got to step up and play different roles. I mean, we all think, like, he may come back. Who knows? But for now, we’ve got ... We still have to play the games with the guys we have here.” said Durant of the team’s feelings on Irving who the Nets exiled following his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Everybody’s been locked-in on that since Day 1 of the season. Just, like, let’s focus on who’s in the locker room and once that situation figured out, we’ll adjust back to that. But for now, everybody’s just trying to figure out their roles on this team. And at this point, it’s been exciting trying to figure that out.”
Tom Osborn: Jock Landale has joined Jakob Poeltl in the NBA's health & safety protocols, per league source.
Tom Orsborn: Pop said he doesn't expect Poeltl (health & safety protocols) to return this week. "I am not exactly sure" when he'll be back," he said. "They tell me every day, but I'm not a scientist. I listen to what they say, but I know he is not going to be ready for tomorrow or Friday."
Duane Rankin: "Nobody getting it on purpose," Monty Williams as Joel Embiid has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, expected to miss games. Williams said you can sometimes let your guard down if your vaccinated. Said medical staff doing everything to try to keep everybody safe. #Suns
Gina Mizell: Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe are all out for tomorrow’s game against the Knicks due to health and safety protocols. Danny Green (hamstring) is questionable.
Dan Steinberg: Bradley Beal on Ted Cruz's Twitter support: "I’ve never met you, I don’t talk to you, and I don’t support you or anything you do. ... That’s why I don’t like social media. Ted, you know damn well I ain’t rockin’ with you."
Rich Hoffman: The latest injury report lists Matisse Thybulle in health and safety protocols. Obviously, that means he's out for tomorrow's game in Chicago. Danny Green has been upgraded to questionable.
Yaron Weitzman: Steve Nash asked about the potential of NYC vaccine mandate changing and whether the team would welcome Kyrie back: “I might be speaking out of turn, but I think if the mandate changes he'd be welcomed back for sure.”
Noah Levick: Doc Rivers says Tobias Harris is “not great.” Rivers: “A lot of guys have had this and are like, I’m fine. Tobias is not like that.”
Shams Charania: 76ers forward Tobias Harris is expected to miss several games in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Harris entered protocols tonight.
Eric Nehm: Lengthy injury list for the Bucks for tomorrow night in Detroit. The following players are OUT: - Donte DiVincenzo (left ankle injury recovery) - Jrue Holiday (left ankle sprain) - Brook Lopez (back soreness) - Khris Middleton (health and safety protocols)
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will enter the NBA’s health and safety protocol today and will be OUT for tonight’s game in Charlotte.
Shams Charania: Cavaliers’ Kevin Love has entered health and safety protocols and is expected to miss several games, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Love is averaging 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds this season.
The Mavericks have officially announced that COVID-19 protocols at the American Airlines Center will be relaxed starting November 15, when Dallas hosts the Denver Nuggets. The revised health and safety measures are a result of the decline in average coronavirus case numbers and recent actions from local health officials.
Keith Smith: Jaylen Brown says he thinks he is feeling aftereffects of having COVID. Brown said his recovery hasn't been the same: "It feels like I played three games instead of one game." Brown said he has some lingering joint pain and fatigue as well.
Jared Weiss: Tatum told Jaylen his breathing was more the issue in his recoveryr, but Jaylen says the soreness and fatigue recovery has been more the issue for him. "I haven't felt like Jaylen out there every single game...Running up and down the court unimpeded is what I'm focused on."
Brad Townsend: Kidd says Trey Burke is not ill. He missed part of his COVID protocol sequence, so he’s out tonight. But he will travel with the team to Denver.
FedExForum has reversed course and will no longer require fans 12 years old or older to wear masks at Memphis Grizzlies and Tigers men's basketball games. The change was announced Thursday and comes after the Shelby County Health Department's latest directive on Wednesday removing the indoor mask mandate for businesses. The directive remains in effect through Nov. 30.
Tim MacMahon: Mavs G Trey Burke, who is not vaccinated, is out vs. Spurs tonight due to Covid protocols. Kristaps Porzingis will sit at least the first game of the back-to-back due to the lower back tightness that caused him to exit early in Tuesday’s win.
John Karalis: Al Horford is officially questionable to return tomorrow. Josh Richardson is probable with the migraine. Marcus Smart has some fluid in his right knee, he's also probable
Jared Weiss: Celtics announce Jaylen Brown has cleared COVID protocols but is still questionable for tomorrow’s season opener in New York as he ramps up his activity. Al Horford remains in the protocol and is out.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: This tepid kid-glove handling from players who have all gotten the vaccine appears more an attempt to preserve a congenial working relationship than true support for making asinine choices. They’re like the Real Housewives pretending they’ve got Erika Jayne’s back in her legal woes because they still have to go to dinner parties with her. Though they don’t mean to, by not strongly condemning Irving, they are signaling passive support, which is as damaging as joining him on the bench as a vaccine-denier.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: There are serious consequences to tiptoeing around what is clearly a threat to many people’s lives, especially Black lives? The last time I wrote about this topic a couple weeks ago, we had just hit 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. As I write this today, we’ve reached 723,754 deaths. By the time you read this, a few thousand more will have died.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Irving has made it clear—in an unclear way—that he is resisting getting vaccinated, not because he’s against the vaccine, but because he’s against mandates: “Just know that I'm rocking with all those that have lost their jobs to this mandate, and I'm rocking with all those that chose to get vaccinated and are choosing to be safe, as well. I'm on both sides of all this. I support and respect everybody's decision.” Respecting everyone’s decision sounds good—sounds so patriotic and All-American. But it’s lame logic. We don’t respect the choice of someone in an apartment building to let mold run rampant because it will make all the tenants sick. We don’t respect the choice of letting your house burn to the ground without fighting the fire because it may burn the neighbors’ houses, too.
Kellan Olson: Asked Monty Williams about the Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak: "This thing is real. I've had family members affected by it. Early on I lost a niece. I'm on my kids about their masks in school. It's a health issue. It's not politics, it's a health issue. We gotta stay on top of it."
Karl-Anthony Towns on finding out his mom has COVID: “It was difficult because, as her son and someone who loves her so dearly, I just didn’t want to see her in pain. So I was trying to do everything possible to make her comfortable and get her better quicker. So I was doing everything in my power and she was getting worse. COVID causes a lot of swelling. And the swelling is what got my mom. And she got a blood clot on the day she was gonna get taken off the ventilator. She had pre-existing conditions too, but nothing to be worried about. So I flew in, I put the hazmat suit on and everything and I went in there. ’Cause I was like, if anyone’s gonna go see her out, I’ma see her out. I spent some hours with her and I knew it was gonna be the last time., so I was kind of working that out.”
Karl-Anthony Towns on losing 8 family members due to COVID-19 as well as contracting the virus himself: “Eight. I just lost a close one last week to COVID. Another one. I was in the hospital...because I got it during the season. And I got discharged.” - Karl-Anthony Towns
“I just got a lot to deal with, you know. Like I don’t have the time, you know, I think my time is...I look at it as like the most valuable thing I have. I’d rather waste a lot of money than waste my time. And I didn’t want to go to therapy and not be ready to talk. ’Cause then I’m just sitting there. I could bullshit my way through anything. I could give you a sense of feeling, but no feelings. If I go in there, I gotta be ready to talk.” - Karl-Anthony Towns
Jason Anderson: Kings guard Terence Davis said he had COVID-19 right before training camp and the virus hit him pretty hard for 3-4 days.
Yet team management and ownership figures across the league have voiced frustration about double standards for players like Irving, whom the NBA does not require to be vaccinated. Meanwhile, the league does require basketball and business operations staffers to be vaccinated, and they are subject to close contact with unvaccinated players.
There is a belief among ownership figures that this discrepancy could net a concession from the players' union during the next round of CBA negotiations, sources said, especially after media day was dominated by conversation about players’ vaccination statuses. The storyline has only continued casting a pall over this preseason, as the Nets announced Tuesday that they will not permit Irving to join the team until he is vaccinated.
Aaron Rose: Nick Nurse said there were no changes to the team's COVID testing after finding out that Al Horford, who the Raptors played on Saturday, tested positive. He did say, "I think you’re mostly concerned with the guys out there playing against him."
John Karalis: Boston Celtics announce Al Horford has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation
Jay King: Ime Udoka said the Celtics have been “more vigorous” about testing guys for COVID since the Jaylen Brown news and nobody else has tested positive.
Jared Weiss: Jaylen Brown tested positive for COVID-19 today, per the Celtics. Team says he is asymptomatic and quarantining.
Nets Daily: Nets have a daily reminder of COVID’s toll. For past 18 months, New York has stored HUNDREDS of corpses from the pandemic in mobile morgues across the street from HSS. Dead from COVID but unclaimed, poor, unidentified. “Right outside my window,” as one Nets staffer told me.
When Los Angeles’ new city ordinance requiring proof of vaccination to enter a wide range of indoor venues takes effect in November, those rules won’t apply at Staples Center, city and arena officials said, because a health order previously issued by the county covers the home of the NHL’s Kings and NBA’s Lakers and Clippers.
In Los Angeles, an unvaccinated Laker or Clipper could apparently still take part in home games, provided they provide proof of a negative test to comply with the county health order as it applies to Staples Center. The point could be moot for now, as both the Lakers and Clippers in recent weeks have said that their rosters are fully vaccinated, but teams often add new players throughout a season.
Ryan Wolstat: The Raptors are back! Injury report for Oct. 4 v PHI: Gary Trent Jr (left quad soreness) is QUESTIONABLE; Chris Boucher (left middle finger dislocation); Khem Birch (health and safety protocols) and Pascal Siakam (injury rehabilitation) are OUT.
Tim Bontemps: The NBA and NBPA are in the process of finalizing an agreement on COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the upcoming season, sources told ESPN.
Tim Bontemps: The impending agreement will cover the way vaccinated and unvaccinated players will be monitored, sources told ESPN. Unvaccinated players will have restrictions similar to what was in place last season, while vaccinated players largely won’t.
Tim Reynolds: The NBA has given teams a draft of the health and safety protocols for this season. As reported, unvaccinated players will be tested (almost) daily, vaccinated players will not be. Unvaxxed players will also be limited in how much they can be around vaxxed players in team areas.
Fans wanting to attend Grizzlies games this season at FedExForum must present proof of having received at least one vaccination dose, or if they are 12 and over and unvaccinated, must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken at least 72 hours in advance, according to a team source on Tuesday.
Chris Grenham: Jayson Tatum says he feels like he's pretty much gotten his wind back following covid. Said he hasn't used his inhaler since last season, which is a good sign.
May 25, 2022 | 6:09 pm EDT Update
Adrian Wojnarowski: ESPN Sources: The Lakers interviewed former Blazers coach Terry Stotts for franchise’s head coaching job in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Two more assistants will meet with LA in near future — Golden State’s Kenny Atkinson and Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham.
Zhaire Smith isn’t ready to return to the NBA just yet, but he will be playing basketball that you can watch this summer. In July, he’ll be playing in The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team single-elimination tournament where the Elam Ending is used and the winner takes home $1 million. His team, Air Raiders (a team of Texas Tech alumni), announced the news Wednesday afternoon.
What seemed inevitable over the past few weeks is now a reality — Jabari Walker’s time at Colorado is over. The sophomore forward signed with the agency WME Entertainment on Tuesday, signaling that he will be staying in the NBA Draft and confirming what his father, NBA veteran Samaki Walker, told ESPN earlier this month.
Along with Booker and Paul, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cameron Payne, Cam Johnson, and Ish Wainright have been confirmed to participate in the event, but there is also a disclaimer that “all participants are subject to change.” Deandre Ayton isn’t listed as a confirmed participant, but is on the promo poster.
The Golden State Warriors will name former NBA executive Donna Daniels as the new general manager of Chase Center, with an official announcement expected Thursday. Daniels will join the Warriors after nearly six years at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment in Philadelphia.
May 25, 2022 | 5:12 pm EDT Update
In the first clue that the Knicks have at least explored moving up from the No. 11 spot in next month’s NBA Draft, New York brass interviewed Purdue’s sophomore, uber-athletic combo guard Jaden Ivey at Chicago’s Draft Combine. The 6-foot-4 Ivey is considered a top-5 pick and has been ranked no lower than sixth in most top mock drafts.