By Caleb Nguyen, Mar. 1, 2022
As the NBA regular season continues into April, it’s business as usual with the standard 82 game regular season, fans back in the arenas and players competing near nightly. Yet, as if COVID-19 suddenly disappeared, games continue as scheduled at the expense of the NBA players’ welfare and without concerns of safety for fans and players alike.
Fans weren’t allowed into arenas until the playoffs last season, yet the doors have magically opened for 2022 to recuperate revenue losses. At the Clippers game at Crypto.com Arena that I went to on Feb. 6, masks were suddenly off as soon as seats were taken without any security to walk the aisles and enforce the “policies” the NBA so desperately pushed for this season.
In standard conditions, players would have at least four months to rest, recover and spend time with their loved ones in preparations for the upcoming 82 game regular season. In the past two seasons, the combined number of offseason days for the league has only totaled 145 days, not even equivalent to five months.
Due to the suspension of the 2020 NBA season from March to July, the league lost $1.5 billion. As a result, teams are playing more games in the following seasons with a shorter offseason to allow more ad revenue to be telecasted and more money generated for the league to recover.
Both physically and mentally draining, the result of such constraints has been increased player injuries as the lack of recovery time has left players succumbing to the immense demands of their occupations.
While I understand that the league is a business, the compression of this much basketball in such a short amount of time is too much for me to comprehend. To me, this simply says that the NBA cares more about its bottom line than the athletes that generate their revenues.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updating their quarantine requirements for those affected by COVID-19 in December, the NBA followed suit in their health and safety protocols.
Isolation periods for NBA players who contracted the virus were reduced from ten days to six, despite an outbreak that saw nearly 100 players contract COVID-19 in December alone.
Speculation persisted from fans, players and league executives alike on the possibility of pausing the current NBA regular season. Commissioner Adam Silver declined the prospects of such, as the financial ramifications for pausing the season in 2020 were already too much to bear for many league wide.
The efforts from the NBA in past years to advocate for social justice on Black issues in America and now vaccination recommendations are performative to me.
Even as early as 2014, many NBA players donned warmup shirts in support of Eric Garner’s last words at the hand of police brutality of “I Can’t Breathe.” I distinctly remember a main talking point was to push for deeper conversations of social justice by painting in bolded letter the words of “Black Lives Matter.”
Suddenly, the next season those bolded letters disappeared from courts nationwide as if Black issues and police brutality themselves disappeared entirely from the precedent the NBA set. The 23% COVID-19 death rate among Black communities in the United States is staggering, considering that they only make up 13% of the population.
Even though 74% of the NBA is African-American, the league that employs these athletes looks for its commodification rather than for their humanity. When the NBA says Black Lives Matter, they only seem to matter through providing the paychecks for predominantly white ownership groups. In preaching such a motto as NBA Cares, such care seems to be only conditional in these lax COVID-19 restrictions that disregard the health and safety the league pretends to care so much about.
Now on TV, I see ads during games from the CDC recommending fans like myself to get vaccinated and to do our part in combating the virus. Meanwhile, dissenters like Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving would rather refuse to get the vaccine, play exclusively in road games and be a complete distraction to his team through a personal choice, leaving his team scrambling for answers for some roster consistencies.
Even players who have been vaccinated due to state mandates for employment in their home states have expressed regret for their decision to get the vaccine.
“I still wish I hadn’t gotten it. Bigger picture, it all worked out for the best. I’m here on the most exciting team in the league. I’m an All-Star. So I feel like I made the right choice at the end of the day.”
Prior to his vaccination, Wiggins echoed the same sentiments as Irving of a personal choice for himself wanting to avoid such, even being denied a faux religious exemption before the regular season began.
When a player of Wiggins’ caliber focuses on regrets for his vaccination status rather than what said decision has allowed him to attain on the court, such a notion speaks to the NBA’s priorities.
For a league proclaiming due diligence in ensuring 97% of their players, including Wiggins, have been vaccinated and 65% of them boosted, the lackadaisical enforcement of protocol from staff at Crypto.com Arena and stances from players vaccinated and unvaccinated still provide a stark contrast to the league’s initiative to their fans in their ad campaigns.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James amongst other players who have contracted COVID-19 this season shared his experiences with a false positive test.
“I had to put my kids in isolation in the time being and people in my household in isolation for the time being. It was a big-time inconvenience.”
The hypocrisy needs to stop.
While I, like many others, got to escape the isolation of the pandemic for just a few hours on that February evening, the simple truth remains that the league prioritizes business over everything. Once the league pockets the ticket revenue, the farce of a new normal is put on for games.
The consistent performativity for the NBA tells me one thing: the lives of its players, coaches and fans only matter when there’s a dollar sign attached. If this is the narrative the league wants to contribute to, consider me switching channels rather than enthused over swishing nets.
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