The NBA released tentative health and safety protocols to its teams earlier this week, detailing how players who haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccination will be tested far more often than their vaccinated colleagues and face a slew of other restrictions.
Among the rules for unvaccinated players: They will not be able to eat in the same room with vaccinated teammates or staff, must have lockers as far away from vaccinated players as possible, and must stay masked and at least 6 feet away from all other attendees in any team meeting.
Further, unvaccinated players will be “required to remain at their residence when in their home market,” teams were told in the draft of the rules, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. They will also need to stay on team hotel properties when on the road. In both cases, there are limited permissible exceptions — such as going to buy groceries, taking children to school and the like.
And unvaccinated players also will not be permitted to visit “higher-risk settings,” the NBA said, such as restaurants, bars, clubs, entertainment venues and large indoor gatherings.
The league is working with the National Basketball Players Association to finalize the protocols, but some details were agreed upon weeks ago — including provisions where unvaccinated players will be tested on all practice, travel, team activity and game days. Fully vaccinated players will not be subject to testing, with very limited exceptions.
Fully vaccinated players — the category that at least 90% of the league falls into — will largely be back to business as usual. Unvaccinated players will be given coronavirus rapid tests on days where teams are practicing, traveling or having similar team events, plus they will need lab-based tests on game days.
“A vaccine mandate for NBA players would need an agreement with the Players Association,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “The NBA has made these proposals but the players’ union has rejected any vaccination requirement.”
Later, the NBPA responded by celebrating the 90% vaccination rate and noting how it exceeds the national percentage. “The real story is not why vaccination isn’t mandated in the NBA. The real story for proponents of vaccination is how can we emulate the Players in the NBA,” union executive director Michele Roberts said.
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers says he doesn’t want to tell people what to do regarding vaccinations. But James — who has more than 50 million Twitter followers and nearly 100 million on Instagram — did reveal Tuesday that he is vaccinated. And like many other big NBA names such as Portland’s Damian Lillard, Lakers teammate Anthony Davis and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, James said he got the shots to keep his family safe.
“I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family and things of that nature,” James said. “I know that I was very (skeptical) about it all. But after doing my research and things of that nature, I felt like it was best suited for not only me but for my family and my friends. And, you know, that’s why I decided to do it.”
Some top NBA players, including Washington’s Bradley Beal and Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins, have said they remain unvaccinated. Phoenix star Devin Booker missed the start of camp because he tested positive, revealing that over the weekend but not saying if he is vaccinated. Others, like Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving — an NBPA vice president — have also refused to divulge their vaccination status, though Irving not attending Nets media day in person on Monday suggests he remains unvaccinated.
Irving did practice with the Nets this week in San Diego, where the team is holding training camp.
The status of Wiggins and Irving is particularly thorny since local ordinances in San Francisco and New York would require them to be vaccinated or get a league exception — Wiggins has already tried that and failed — in order to play in home games, which obviously make up half the schedule. Irving is due to make about $35 million this season, Wiggins nearly $32 million.
“Any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for games that he misses,” Bass said Wednesday.
The difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated players will also govern the rules surrounding what happens when contact tracing flags a player as being possibly exposed to a person who is positive for COVID-19, the NBA told teams.
Those who are fully vaccinated will not be required in most cases to quarantine, though will need seven days of testing. Unvaccinated players flagged by contact tracing will need to quarantine for seven days.
The NBA and the players are still working on some final topics, all with hopes that this season — unlike last year — doesn’t see waves of game postponements or players missing extended periods of time because of the virus. Remaining topics include what would trigger needs for fully vaccinated players to be tested.
Some rules from last season will still apply, at least to begin this season. All players and staff, regardless of vaccination status, must wear masks in almost all situations inside team facilities, during travel and when on the bench during games. The bench rule will not apply to head coaches, who are not required to mask during games.
Also, it was previously agreed that anyone in proximity to players — stat-crew staffs, team attendants, even NBA referees — must be vaccinated.