Storyline: Coronavirus

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One month ago, sports’ use of those COVID-19 tests — and the lab capacity needed to process them — was thought to be incidental. But now, the United States is seeing more than 50,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day. Major commercial labs are struggling to keep up with the high demand, causing delays in turnaround times. And experts wonder if the return of sports could burden an increasingly-fragile testing infrastructure. “That’s been a big concern for me, as I’ve been seeing different leagues and their plans for reopening,” said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University and Bellevue Hospital.

BioReference Laboratories, which has partnered with MLS and NBA to process tests for their bubble sites in Florida, said in a statement Friday that it is processing tests within 72 hours with an estimated capacity of 70,000 tests per day. “We have enough capacity right now to test the people we’ve made our commitments to,” Jon Cohen, the company’s executive chairman, told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. “If you have a relationship with BioReference, and we have made a commitment to you, we’re going to deliver on that commitment.”

The NBA is also supporting testing research through partnerships with the Yale School of Public Health and the Mayo Clinic, among others. MLB said it is offering free COVID-19 tests and antibody tests to health care workers and first responders in its home cities. And BioReference said in a news release it is working with MLS to provide antibody tests for the public in Orlando. Despite those good-faith efforts, sports risk losing the battle of perception as long as athletes are receiving multiple tests in a virtual bubble, while citizens in hard-hit areas wait in their cars or long lines for hours, often in vain, for the same test. “I think sports in general will be an easy target to say, why are we doing this?” said Roberts. “But you could say that about a hundred things. You don’t need your nails done. You don’t need your tacos. But those are obviously part of the economy.”

Binney, the incoming professor at Emory, said leagues must ultimately ask themselves a simple question: Are they doing more harm or good by returning? The answer, of course, is complicated. And changing all the time. “I think that pro sports, with the right setup and the right logistics, can come back still without having a negative effect on the community around them,” Binney said. “But it’s getting harder.”

As NBA teams get situated in the Orlando bubble, one question that has persisted since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is not only what happens if a player tests positive for the virus but also what lingering effects might follow. “There are unknown effects it has on lung capacity, unknown effects it has on cardiac health,” said one NBA general manager of a team entering the bubble, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “What if a 24-year-old catches it in Orlando and, in 14 days, he quarantines and is fine, but then he has these everlasting heart problems? [Or he] gets winded so easily, or he becomes a little bit too susceptible to fatigue. …These are all the unknowns.”

Each case will be handled based on its own needs, but John DiFiori, the NBA’s Director of Sports Medicine, told ESPN that the timeline for any player to return from a confirmed positive case is at least two weeks. “Everyone needs to understand that if someone were to test positive, it’s quite likely that they won’t return to the court for a minimum of two weeks — minimum,” said DiFiori, who is also the Chief of Primary Sports Medicine and attending physician at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery. “It may be even a little longer than that, depending on the individual circumstances, and then you need some time to get reconditioned.”

Unlike Major League Baseball, so far teams have not seen significant delays or problems receiving test results, according to sources that spoke with NBC Sports. But there have been hiccups here and there. In the 24 hours before departure for Orlando, one NBA team had its tests accidentally sent to the wrong lab, according to league sources. The mistake forced the entire team to retake the coronavirus tests later in the day, delaying their trip to Orlando by several hours. “This is the new normal,” said one official of a team dealing with testing blips.

“We have a plan that we put in place that gives me a bit of structure to use as a template every day,” Williams said. “At the same time, I want to try to feel the gym and see if I can push a little bit more or pull back. … “I’m probably a bit more cautious than I’ve ever been, just because we’ve had so much time off. But the plan is in place. It may be modified a little bit, but I want to try to listen and learn as much as I can. Because, it’s basically a new season, a new universe for all of us who are trying to get our guys in shape.”

Enter Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who used a video conference with reporters Tuesday to urge the league’s younger players to take the coronavirus seriously even if they don’t experience any symptoms. “It’s really concerning because unfortunately, those (asymptomatic cases) are the ones that (are) the problem,” Smart said. “Because you go out there and you’re asymptomatic, you don’t know it and you go to your Grandma or you have a kid and go home to your kid, your wife, she’s pregnant, you never know. “You don’t know because you don’t feel anything, so you’re like, ‘I don’t need to get tested. I feel fine.’ Then you’re spreading it and now it’s everywhere and it’s out of control even more than what it is.”

Later this month, the NBA will finally return to action after four and a half months at rest, inside the semi-permeable bubble at Disney World. Major League Baseball and the WNBA will return around that same time. Both American soccer leagues, the MLS and NWSL, will have been back for weeks. The leagues will face scrutiny unlike any other time in their history as they try to play amid a global pandemic. While the United States tries to stabilize itself as the novel coronavirus spreads, jumping from one epicenter to another, sports will make the biggest bet yet: That it can out-smart the virus long enough to play some semblance of a season for each of the respective leagues.

Health and safety will be of the utmost concern. There will be symptom-tracking rings and social-distancing guidelines. There will be testing — lots of it. The NBA has released a 113-page manual detailing each stage leading up to the deployment of teams into Orlando and then what they’ll have to do on the ground. While the leagues have rightfully devoted much attention to many stages of the return, there has been one overlooked part of sports that is also worth a discussion. With sports returning, what happens to the locker room?

Locker rooms, and clubhouses, are central to any team. They are changing rooms and meeting rooms. They are destinations for players when they get to the arena and the last port before they leave. They are meant for uplifting moments and for killing time. For pregame speeches and halftime adjustments. They are also usually small, enclosed spaces that cluster dozens of people together for prolonged periods of time, encouraging them to feel at ease. In normal times, that is ideal; a place that can feel like a comfortable salon for the professional athlete. During a pandemic, it seems like a petrie dish for the spread of the virus.

When asked why specifically he thought the league shouldn’t resume play, he provided a poignant response. “I think [the spread of the virus], and then also I feel like there’s a lot of other stuff going on,” Milton said. “There are issues going on right now in the world that are way bigger than a sport, way bigger than the game of basketball. I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.”

The sports “bubbles” are also home to experimental new tech and trials of new ways of testing for COVID-19. They might also tell us more about how the virus spreads. “There’s a lot of interest in sports coming back, and they could also be a plan for how we bring back universities, colleges and school safely. It’s the same concept, with a lot of people in close proximity to each other,” says Priya Sampathkumar, an epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic who’s working on an NBA antibody study. “It’s trying it out — if we can’t keep them safe, maybe it’s not safe to open up.”

The closed-off NBA bubble is dedicated to basketball, but it’s also a makeshift COVID-19 research laboratory. The league is helping trial a saliva-based COVID-19 test, and any players who opt in will help the Yale School of Public Health validate their testing method. Players in Orlando will be tested almost every day using the typical method: having a swab shoved deep inside their nose. Players who enroll in the Yale study, though, will also give a saliva sample along with each test. The team will compare the two types of tests and check if the saliva test is as accurate as the nose and throat swab.

The league is putting together a group of experts to think through research approaches to the bubble, Sampathkumar says. “They’re willing to share the data that they come up with, and are asking for input on the type of data they should collect,” she says. The information is important for the league itself because it helps it manage the health and safety of its employees. But learning more about the virus and how it spreads is useful for everyone, not just professional athletes holed up at Disney World. “That could be really valuable information,” Rasmussen says. “And that could be extrapolated to the larger population.”

In a virtual interview with Fortune Brainstorm Health, Silver said the NBA expects more positive coronavirus cases to pop up as teams arrive to the NBA campus at Walt Disney World resort this week. But once teams arrive, all personnel will be tested and must quarantine for at least two days. “We won’t be surprised when they first come down to Orlando if we have some additional players test positive,” Silver told Fortune Brainstorm Health. “What would be most concerning is once players enter this campus and then go through our quarantine period, then if they were to test positive or if we were to have any positive tests, we would know we would have an issue.” “… We would know that there’s in essence a hole in our bubble or that our quarantine or our campus is not working in some way,” Silver added later. “So that would be very concerning.”

Silver said the NBA’s campus with daily testing and guidance from medical experts is “as protected as possible from the environment around us.” “So on paper, and dealing with our experts, this should work,” Silver said. “But we shall see. I’m confident based on the positive cases we are seeing from our players and the general public around the country that it will be safer on this campus than off this campus in part because we are going to be doing daily testing. But again this virus has humbled many so I am not going to express any higher level of confidence than we are following the protocols and we hope it works as we designed it.”

Silver reiterated that the league likely will not be forced to shut down again due to one potential positive coronavirus test inside campus. However, a spread could bring the NBA to a halt again. “I think we do have the ability to trace, of course to try to understand where that positive case came from,” Silver said of any positive cases inside the Walt Disney World campus. “We can actually analyze the virus itself and try to track whether if there is more than one case, if it’s in essence the same virus and same genetic variation of the virus that is passed from one player to another or two people have gotten it on the campus independently. So those are all things that we are looking at.”

Former No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet has re-entered unrestricted free agency after a teammate in The Basketball Tournament tested positive for COVID-19 at the start of the month. Thabeet, 33, was set to compete with the “Playing for Jimmy V” team during the annual tournament, but event rules mandate that any team who receives a positive test be disqualified from competing in the bracket any further. Thabeet tested negative for the coronavirus, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

As he learned more about the NBA’s restart plan and safety protocols, McCollum said he began to feel better about playing, and his opinion started to shift. He asked his family if they wanted him to play. Had they said no, he wouldn’t have chosen to go. “From the standpoint of understanding what I can accomplish while playing in front of all those fans, especially to help the movement,” McCollum said. “I feel like it was in my better interest personally to play.”

It took a lot of time and information to persuade McCollum to play, and it still wasn’t an easy decision. Much more than getting into the playoffs, he’s worried about his health and that of his teammates. “I don’t know how much interactive fun I’ll have from a safety standpoint,” McCollum said. “I think it’s best to stick to yourself if I’m being honest. Stay in my room, FaceTime, talk to my family, read some books, play some video games, drink some McCollum Heritage 91 and keep it moving. I don’t really plan on mingling too much, especially to start, because one false negative could be the end.”

Spencer Dinwiddie hoping to fly with the Nets to Orlando

The Nets head to Orlando on Tuesday and enter quarantine in Disney. Dinwiddie would be required by the NBA to have two negative tests before he could even travel. His hope is to be able to fly with the team to Florida, because traveling separately will complicate matters. “Protocol only calls for 7 days and negative tests not the 14 day standard,” Dinwiddie tweeted of the shorter one-week quarantine. “Yep, the plan would be to fly to Orlando after workout. For players that show up late, it might make it difficult to resume season at all due to more rigorous testing requirements.”

After receiving the results of a Friday round of testing for the coronavirus, the Milwaukee Bucks shut down the team’s practice facility for workouts until the team departs for Orlando, Florida, this week, sources told ESPN. It was not immediately clear if there was more than one positive test, but the team plans to keep the facility closed for workouts until the team’s traveling party departs for the league’s restart in Orlando on Thursday, sources said.

Turner’s father, David, contracted the COVID-19 virus and was quarantined in a bedroom in the family home in Dallas for about 10 days. He’s doing well now according to Myles, but the episode had an obvious impact on his feelings toward going back to basketball when the number of cases of infected people continues to rise. Turner moved back into his parents’ house when he returned to Texas after the season was put on hold. His father hadn’t been feeling well and was discovered to have the virus the second time he was tested. “I saw it firsthand and how it affected my family and I couldn’t imagine how it’s affected other families,” Turner said Friday during a Zoom call with media members. “I definitely wasn’t a big proponent of playing at first. I still have questions now, but most of the questions have been answered.”

The league has implemented exhaustive testing procedures for its Disney campus in Orlando, and yet NBA Commissioner Adam Silver concedes it’s “not impermeable.” He even allowed that his concern is increasing, owing to the 10,000 cases Florida just saw in one day. “We’re talking about degrees of risk in all these things, and I think sometimes that gets lost,” said Dr. Lisa Miller, a professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health. “It’s not like there’s a black-and-white line between you’re either over 65 and you’re at risk or you’re under 65 and you’re not.”

“If you’re in the bubble and you know you have seven percent of people who are PCR positive, that seems concerning,” Miller said. “If it’s pre-bubble, and you’ve allowed the appropriate amount of time for isolation of those people then I think that’s different.” The NBA has, deliberately, not stated what it would take to call off the restart. “This level of testing and oversight is just so many levels more than any other community that I find it hard to imagine that there will be uncontrolled transmission because they’ll be able to identify it so early,” Miller said, while acknowledging some level of risk associated with just playing basketball. “The concerning thing would be if there was identified person-to-person transmission within the bubble, and they demonstrate that all these safeguards are really not preventing that then I think they’ll have to rethink it.”
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July 12, 2020 | 8:31 pm EDT Update
With limited apparel flexibility, face masks will also serve as one of the few opportunities for self-expression en route to games. Some players planned ahead, creating customized masks with social justice messages, personal brand logos or hometown area codes. The league has already provided all players and team personnel with face coverings as part of their arrival package in Orlando. A batch of ten co-designed NBA x Stance masks with different prints, logo executions and graphics were waiting for players in their hotel rooms. When arriving for games, players will have the option to wear the league-provided masks, their team-issued face coverings or a face covering of their own choosing.
July 12, 2020 | 8:27 pm EDT Update
July 12, 2020 | 8:16 pm EDT Update

July 12, 2020 | 7:23 pm EDT Update
Orlando Magic second-year center Mo Bamba was on a mission during the NBA coronavirus shutdown. He came into the league as a slender 7-footer with athleticism that enabled him to block shots and pop out on the perimeter for occasional 3-point attempts. Bamba, however, wanted to add more to his game, so he focused on adding weight to his 230-pound frame. He figured adding bulk and muscle to his already athletic body would give him even more of an advantage in the paint going up against bigger NBA players.
“My mentality the whole entire time we were quarantined was to gain an inch every day and it really took, literally, every day going through it to get to where I am,” Bamba said Sunday. “It took changing my diet, it took intense workouts and it took leaning on the Magic’s strength and conditioning staff to provide a plan for me.” Bamba said a personal chef, a strict diet of five to six meals a day and constant workouts with weights were the key to his three-month transformation.
“Initially the goal was to get to 240 and that happened really quick with the change of diet,” Bamba said. “Then I started to approach the 250 mark and I was like, ‘All right, this is around the weight that I feel comfortable at,’ and once I got a little bit past 250, I was like, ‘OK, this is where I’m gonna try to cap it.’ “I feel really good right now jumping-wise … I just feel really good, man.”
July 12, 2020 | 6:59 pm EDT Update
July 12, 2020 | 6:27 pm EDT Update
Darren Wolfson: The #Timberwolves had a good group in for workouts last week, more guys coming in this week. It’s an important summer from a developmental perspective for so many. By the way, the wrap on Russell’s right ankle is normal post-workout taping. Nothing to worry about.

July 12, 2020 | 4:42 pm EDT Update
Fred Katz: Disney logistics since we’re all learning: The NBA gives 3-hr practice windows to each team since they’re sharing facilities. If a team wants to have a day off, that might be reflected in their schedule but it’s not like the NBA knows when it tells them the time they have the gym . These are boring logistics. But that’s why the language was misleading with the Wizards technically “canceling” a practice they were never scheduled to have. They’ll be back on the court tomorrow
Storyline: Orlando Bubble