The NBA prides itself on putting fans first, and with the deadly coronavirus terrorizing airports and immune systems throughout the world, the league is putting precautionary measures in place to protect its million-dollar athletes.
Among the NBA’s short-term recommendations to teams in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, players should utilize fist-bumps over high-fives with fans and avoid taking items such as pens, balls and jerseys to autograph, according to a memo to teams obtained by ESPN.
Among larger concerns being addressed in NBA front offices and the league office is the possibility that pre-draft combines, on-site workouts and international scouting events could become more limited in scope, or even be canceled, based on the possible escalation of the coronavirus outbreak.
In coming up with these precautions, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and renowned infectious-disease experts.
“The health and safety of our employees, teams, players and fans is paramount,” the NBA said in a statement. “We are coordinating with our teams and consulting with the CDC and infectious disease specialists on the coronavirus and continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Players seem to be mixed on how seriously they’re taking this health scare. While Knicks guard Bobby Portis has complied by fist-bumping fans, All-Star forward Jimmy Butler remains unfazed.
“I don’t think about any of that,” Butler told ESPN. “I’m still going to be who I am. We’re still going to be who we are.”
Count Portland Trailblazers guard CJ McCollum among those who aren’t playing any games either.
“The Corona Virus has officially hit Oregon. More specifically Lake Oswego,” he tweeted over the weekend. “Make sure y’all washing y’all hands with soap for 20 or more seconds & covering ya mouths when you cough. I am officially taking a break from signing autographs until further notice.”
Other sports leagues throughout the world appear to be expressing similar concerns. In Italy, soccer matches have been postponed until May, the Chinese Basketball Association has been suspended indefinitely since February, and with March Madness on the horizon, the NCAA is considering holding tournament games in empty arenas.
“In the wake of the emerging coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA and its colleges should take precautions to protect college athletes,” the National College Players Association said in a statement. “Precautions should include canceling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds...In regard to the NCAA’s March Madness tournament and other athletic events, there should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”
Major League Baseball is also monitoring the situation with opening day mere weeks away and the Masters, which is set to begin on April 9 and draws huge international crowds to the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., will be vigilant in minimizing the risk of exposure by enforcing the use of disinfectant wipes and sending sick employees home.
“Masters Week is a big question mark right now,” Havird Usry, a board member with the Georgia Restaurant Association, said. “We obviously have people from all over the world who are going to find their way into our community, and I think we need to have our guard up and make sure these protocols are in place and happening at restaurants.”
Since its emergence in December, the coronavirus has infected over 85,000 people and is responsible for over 2,900 deaths throughout the world. A minuscule number in comparison to the Earth’s billions of inhabitants, but safe is always better than sorry.