SAN FRANCISCO – With the spread of coronavirus affecting the routine of millions of Americans and many more globally, the Warriors were compelled to issue a statement clarifying the reasons for Stephen Curry’s illness-related absence from the game Saturday against the 76ers:
“This morning Stephen Curry was diagnosed with influenza A by a positive viral testing. We have identified his probable source contact who is not part of basketball operations. He has no specific risk factors for COVID-19. He has the seasonal flu. We have begun treatment for Stephen and instituted our team protocol for influenza exposure.”
That statement came two hours before a 5:30 p.m. tipoff at Chase Center, and five hours after Curry was listed on the team’s injury report as being out with “illness.”
The team’s decision to provide specifics on Curry’s condition speaks to the scope of the current crisis. With the global death toll surging past 3,000, there are deepening concerns generally impacting society and specifically affecting the sports world.
The NCAA Tournament, so meticulously planned and anticipated, begins March 17 and runs through April 6. It involves both men’s teams and women’s teams. The games are scheduled to be played in three dozen cities. It’s the crown jewel of NCAA sports, and this might be the year that brings a new definition to the term March Madness.
Everything within sports, at least for now, must be addressed with coronavirus and its possible repercussions. No league wants any part of being associated with spreading disease, and sports events typically bring thousands of people under one roof or in close proximity.
That’s why NBA team physicians and trainers are, according to multiple reports Saturday, scheduled to participate in a conference call Monday to deliberate over the next steps, knowing any plan must be facile enough to be altered, if not discarded.
Five weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a “global health emergency” and one week after the United States recorded its first death and began imposing travel restrictions, sports have reached the stage when the vague term “illness” can spark rampant speculation.
“I was with Steph yesterday at practice and later that afternoon in Oakland and he was fine,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said shortly before tipoff. “He woke up this morning feeling sick. I know his young son (Canon) was sick for a couple of days, so he probably got it from his son. Our doctors checked him out and it is the basic flu.”
Rather than assume it was a common ailment, the team’s medical staff felt obligated to take a closer look. It was a smart decision, one that also can ease mounting anxieties.
With even the healthiest among us under greater scrutiny, drastic measures are under consideration in the sports world. Handshakes are being discouraged. Hand sanitizer is being distributed throughout arenas in copious amounts.
Moreover, the NHL intends to temporarily restrict dressing-room access to the media in an effort to limit contact from those outside team circles.
The NBA had not moved in that direction as of early Saturday evening, but it’s deep in the process of studying preventative measures.
“In consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, we're discussing with other sports leagues options to protect the health of everyone in our buildings, including those typically in our locker rooms," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said Saturday. “As always, we're committed to providing appropriate media access."
In the most dramatic potential move, both the NBA and NHL are exploring the possibility of playing games in arenas with the only observers being “essential” personnel. One report, by Shams Charania of The Athletic, indicated the NBA sent a league-wide memo requesting that all teams prepare for that possibility.
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Lakers superstar LeBron James, the most influential player in the league, was quick and emphatic in his response.
“We play games without the fans? No, it’s impossible,” James told reporters in Los Angeles late Friday night. “I ain’t playing. If I ain’t got the fans in the crowd, that’s who I play for. I play for my teammates. I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena and there are no fans in there, I ain’t playing. They can do what they want to do.”
This is the 'now normal,' and we can only hope it is fleeting. That the spread of coronavirus is contained relatively quickly and that every “illness” isn’t cause for pause.
Meanwhile, how can it not be?