The entries come in almost numbing fashion now. They land on team injury reports alongside knee sprains and hamstring soreness, their language so familiar in this third NBA season affected by the global pandemic.
“Health and safety protocols. Out”
At this point, as the Chicago Bulls’ COVID-19 situation is actually improving, it’s clear the NBA is going to push through its dramatically rising case numbers. Perhaps some more postponements are coming after the Bulls’ became the first two this past week; the Brooklyn Nets now have 10 players, including Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, in the protocols.
Can the Nets’ high-profile matchup against the Lakers be flexed out of the league’s beloved slate of Christmas Day games?
That’s a bad attempt at light-heartedness for what could be extremely challenging upcoming weeks for the NBA. With the Omicron variant circulating and increased testing producing more and more absences, how does the league balance player safety, public health responsibility and the need for the show to go on?
“Nah, I don’t want to get into that. I don’t really know,” Coby White said Saturday following his practice since entering the protocols on Dec. 1. “I want to hoop. And everybody else wants to hoop. Whatever they come up with, that’s what I’m going to follow.”
Indeed, it’s a question for an extremely high pay grade. Players only can do so much. Get vaccinated and boosted. Practice the widely known safe habits — social distancing, mask wearing in public indoor settings, hand hygiene — as much as possible.
But with the NFL making headlines Saturday for ending mandated weekly COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic, vaccinated players and the NHL pausing multiple teams amid whispers of a full-on league stoppage, it’s a tricky balancing act.
“It’s just mentally exhausting just seeing everything that’s going on around the league, just being affected by it,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It can be frustrating, it can be confusing, it can be a lot of things at once. It’s just something we’ve got to continue to deal with, try and maneuver around it and make the most of it.”
DeRozan practiced for the first time since he entered the protocols on Dec. 6. He said he felt fine during his mandated absence — "only symptom I had was boredom, honestly,” he cracked — and understands the NBA isn’t immune from the challenges affecting any business.
“This whole thing going on, not just in sports but the world in general, it’s just frustrating. Most of the guys in our league try and follow the necessary precautions that we needed to take by getting vaccinated so we can be out there, take care of our health, and just to be out there and play,” DeRozan said. “That was a big thing for us, just to be out on that floor.
“For guys to be vaccinated dealing with this, getting hit hard, it’s just frustrating. You try and do everything to avoid missing any games or even contracting COVID-19, and it still comes around.”
And the virus isn’t going away. It’s part of all our lives for the foreseeable future.
So you hope for largely asymptomatic cases, like the one DeRozan had. You hope for the percentage of players to receive boosters to hit the impressive 97 percent vaccination rate they produced. You hope Omicron isn’t as severe as most scientists and medical experts believe it will be.
And you appreciate the little moments, as DeRozan has voiced consistently throughout his season.
“I wish I had a secret thing,” DeRozan said, when asked the same question White fielded, about how the league balances player safety with the need for the games to go on. “I know the bubble. I wouldn’t want to do the bubble.”
Sometimes, laughter is the only medicine.