As all sports have shown when operating outside a bubble during the era of COVID-19, road blocks are inevitable. Due to positive cases and contact tracing, the NBA has had to postpone four games this week, three of which involve the Boston Celtics, who have been unable to field the required minimum of eight players.
While not impacted on the same scale, the Spurs have not gone unscathed, as backup center Drew Eubanks, assistant coach Becky Hammon and an unnamed staff member have been quarantined in Los Angeles since the Spurs two games there last week due to contact tracing. (It has not been reported if any of them have tested positive for the virus or who they were traced to.)
As result, and in an attempt to avoid reaching a point where the season must be paused, the NBA is installing a new set of rules to try and limit the number of cases and slow the impact contact tracing is having on teams. As of now, most of these rules are in place through at least January 26. Here is the lowdown:
- The league is no longer allowing players and staff to leave their hotels for non-team activities and is eliminating visitors to hotel rooms. Players were previously allowed to have up to two guests in hotel rooms, including those who were family members and long-standing personal friends.
- When not on the road, players and staff must stay at home unless they are going to a team-related activity, exercising outside, performing essential activities or “as a result of extraordinary circumstances.” They must also limit away-from-work interactions with family, household members and personal staff working in their home.
- Pregame meetings in the locker room can last no more than 10 minutes. Every other meeting involving players and staff must happen either on the court, in a league-approved space or in an arena in a room big enough for everyone involved to be at least 6 feet apart. Masks must worn at all times, including in the locker room.
- At the arena, players cannot arrive more than three hours before tip-off. Also, pregame and postgame interactions with other teams are limited to elbow or fist bumps, and any extended socialization must take place 6 ft apart.
- Players are required to wear a mask on the bench at all times. There will be a designated cooldown area away from the others for players who are just coming out of the game to catch their breath before putting on a mask and returning to the bench.
It was always going to be a challenge restarting the season outside the Bubble, but it was unrealistic to expect players to spend an entire season away from their families in such an environment. Hopefully as vaccines continue to roll out, cases will begin to go down, and at some point things will begin to resemble some sort of normalcy again. The first half of the season concludes on March 4 for the Spurs before the midseason break.