NBA Rumor: Coronavirus Vaccine

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Golden State Warriors guard Damion Lee said he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Lee, 28, is considered one of the rare “breakthrough cases” — one of only 6,000 or so people who have tested positive for the virus after going through the full vaccination process, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I did test positive for COVID about two weeks ago,” Lee said prior to Thursday night’s 118-97 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I did get the vaccine the middle, end of March, but essentially this was just a rare breakthrough case. … Right now, there’s no timeline in the immediate future for me coming back and playing.”

On Saturday night, Clifford sounded more concerned that basketball fans might hear the news about his positive test and mistakenly conclude that vaccines are not effective or worth getting. Indeed, Clifford was not fully vaccinated when he likely was exposed to the virus. But he added that, if the tests were not false positives, he hopes the initial vaccine will make it less likely he develops COVID-19 symptoms. “I just don’t understand why anybody would be against the vaccination,” Clifford said. “I think that the more people that do it in our country, it’s better for all of us.”

Basketball Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal joined former president Barack Obama on an NBC special Sunday night to encourage Americans to get COVID-19 vaccines. The former NBA players — who have remained highly visible through their roles as analysts for “Inside the NBA” on TNT — exchanged humorous barbs and briefly spoke with O’Neal’s mother before Obama joined them. “So I’m playing Kenny the Jet,” Obama joked when he joined the duo, in reference to Kenny Smith, who is an analyst alongside Barkley and O’Neal on “Inside the NBA.”

“Now, as the vaccine becomes more available, I want to make sure that our communities, particularly ones — African American, Latino — as well as young people understand that this will save lives and allow people to get their lives back to normal,” Obama added. “The sooner we get more people vaccinated the better off we’re going to be.” Barkley said he’s on the verge of getting his second vaccine shot, and O’Neal said he’s been vaccinated, along with family members with underlying conditions. “But I’m not worried about me or my family. I’m worried about the average mom and dad,” O’Neal said.

The exact number is not known. Getting the vaccine is a personal choice. The organization did not make it mandatory. Not all of the players agreed to it. But a source said a “fair amount of players” received the one-time Johnson and Johnson shot. There are currently 15 guys on the roster, including Lamar Stevens and Brodric Thomas, both of whom are currently on two-way contracts. “It was a great turnout,” a source said.

Because it was Johnson and Johnson, members of the organization who received the vaccine during that rollout will not need a second dose. According to a source, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff, 42, received his vaccine earlier, prior to knowing it would be available to the entire team on March 30. Bickerstaff had the first dose of Moderna. His second shot is scheduled for Monday, April 12 — a team off day following a weekend back-to-back and before the Cavaliers travel to Charlotte for a one-off road game, sources say.

Some players still hesitant to get vaccinated

Despite the Herculean efforts of the NBA and the NBPA, the league is encountering a variety of problems in trying to get everyone in the league vaccinated against COVID-19. The teams having the most difficulty getting vaccinations include the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers, BasketballNews.com has learned. Numerous league sources described the situation as an ongoing, daily dilemma in which they are fighting against misinformation, historical truths about government abuse of vaccination programs in Black communities and logistical complications based upon different vaccination qualification rules in different states.

With the United States entering what the government is calling the “fourth wave” of COVID-19 infections, the slow return to normalcy is proving difficult in both the NBA and society at large. A league source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said teams have been instructed by the league office that they cannot jump the line to get members of their organizations vaccinated, and nobody will be forced to be vaccinated against their will. But at the same time, extraordinary efforts are being made to educate players and team personnel about the merits of vaccination.

One source said that one of the most difficult tasks has been dispelling myths being perpetuated by anti-vaccine advocates whose information is being re-reported by some mainstream media companies and spreading on social media and online forums. Privately, players have expressed that they are hesitant to get the vaccine due to systemic distrust in the U.S. government, in large part due to the infamous “Tuskegee Experiment,” league sources told BasketballNews.com.

For James in particular, outwardly stating that he received a vaccine, or planned to, would be the greatest thing he has ever done. Greater than any made basket, any championship won, any school opened or voting rights campaign spearheaded. “I think the opinions and actions of trusted sports icons could make a difference in encouraging their fans to get the vaccine,” Cheryl B. Prince, a retired epidemiologist who worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1980 to 2019, told The Undefeated.

Bazemore considers his decision “a lifestyle thing,” as he is not keen on making allowances. “I do everything I can to strengthen my immune system, with hours upon hours of cooking, preparing my meals at home, really being conscious of what I put in my body and taking care of my health,” he said. “My family has a history of heart disease and all these different things, and I’m trying to turn that around for my lineage. So, I’m taking it upon myself to do everything I can to keep my immune system strong and live a healthy and long life.”

Earlier this month, when given a chance to get the coronavirus vaccine, Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli didn’t hesitate. Melli had watched for more than a year as the coronavirus ripped through his home country of Italy, where during the first wave hospitals became overwhelmed, and where the death toll from the virus has now surpassed 105,000. “I believe we have to trust science,” Melli said. “Otherwise, what are we doing here? I took it. I felt comfortable with it. I felt good. Hopefully, all of my family in Italy will get it, so when I go back home, I can be with them, hug them, kiss them and go slowly back to normal life. This is not normal.”

Before the season, Melli said he planned to “run away from the virus.” That meant when he was not playing basketball, he would hole up in his apartment or in a hotel room if the Pelicans were on the road. Melli said he has done just that. But the mental toll of not being around people outside of work hasn’t been easy. “I have no social life,” Melli said. “I don’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant. I’m tired of taking the delivery at home. It’s not the same thing. I have no social life. But this is the right thing. Personally, to me this is the right thing to do.”

Melli said is looking forward to returning home to Italy this summer, where he hopefully will be able to spend time with loved ones. Melli is close with his grandmother, who spent close to 90 days in isolation during the worst stages of the pandemic. “I cannot wait,” Melli said. “I miss it. I missed kissing my grandmother last summer. I miss hugging my parents for real last summer. I miss seeing my friends also. I didn’t see my friends last summer when I went back home. This is not normal. We are getting used to it.”


Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said he hasn’t read the entire memo from the NBA headquarters. He added that the Mavs won’t forced their players to get the COVID-19 vaccination. “But my understanding is that the restrictions are easing up slightly because people are becoming vaccinated, which is a great thing,” Carlisle said. “I don’t have details, league-wide, as to which teams have been vaccinated and which haven’t. In terms of our players, vaccination is certainly going to be their choice. It’s not something that will be required. My feeling is it will be encouraged, but it’s going to be their choice alone. They won’t be forced to do it.”

Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts is excited that the NBA has taken this stance to relax some of the rules and trying to give the players, coaches and staff a bit more freedom. “I think it’s a great motivation to get everybody vaccinated, and to me that’s paramount, obviously,” Stotts. “And it should be good motivation to get vaccinated. But I look forward to that day when we are able to take advantage of all those things that are being loosen up.”

NBA announces changes to health and safety protocols for anyone fully vaccinated


“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.

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.

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.”
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