Two seasons ago, it was the bubble in Orlando. Last year, it was regular testing and players in and out of health and safety protocol. Now this upcoming NBA season, the 2021-22 campaign, is shaping up to be affected by the coronavirus in a different way: vaccines.
The league has outlined different rules for players who are vaccinated and those who are not. But beyond inconveniences like testing and mask requirements for the unvaccinated, it could also be a competitive disadvantage, as those who have been inoculated will be better protected from COVID-19 and therefore less likely to miss games or infect others. For some players in certain jurisdictions, like Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, it could even mean missing home games.
The Wizards are not fully-vaccinated, as general manager Tommy Sheppard confirmed last week, and so it was no surprise the topic of vaccines set the tone for media day on Monday on the eve of training camp. Most players who were asked confirmed they have received the vaccine, but star guard Bradley Beal notably has not. Likely starter Kyle Kuzma -- acquired in the Russell Westbrook trade this summer from the Los Angeles Lakers -- declined to say his vaccination status, citing personal reasons.
There were others who revealed they are vaccinated like Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell and 2021 first-round draft pick Corey Kispert. Daniel Gafford also revealed over the summer he's in that group.
Sheppard said last week his team was "well into the 90th percentile." That means Beal could be one of a select few. But given he is the best player on the team, it's a major story entering camp.
There were plenty of differing opinions on the matter and that was most clear during Beal's media session to start the day. After he revealed he was not vaccinated (which was long suspected when COVID-19 forced his removal from the U.S. men's basketball team days before they departed for the Tokyo Olympics) there were a series of follow-ups.
That led to an open discussion between Beal and reporters about COVID-19 vaccines with Beal even asking some why they chose to get the shot. It happens to be a requirement for media to attend events like Monday's in-person session that was also broadcast as a Zoom call. You can read Beal's comments here with some links to factual research provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Beal, though, represented one side of the spectrum. There were some Wizards in the middle and others with very different feelings. The one thing no player did was fault a teammate for making what they collectively seem to respect as a personal choice.
Among those in favor of getting vaccinated, Harrell had the strongest comments.
"That ain’t got nothing to do with me, brother, honestly. I got vaccinated throughout the season last year and that’s [me]," Harrell said. "Everybody else has their different beliefs, everybody else has their different reasons why. That’s on them. I can’t tell nobody that he’s wrong for not getting the vaccination because it’s his God-given right and his God-given belief that he shouldn’t have it. I’m not going to tell him that because it has nothing to do with me."
Harrell added: "I got vaccinated because I have two small, little kids. I’m traveling around. I have an aunt who’s on dialysis and things like that. I’m not going to run the risk of taking this virus or this disease into a space with them and then causing them to get sick. I’m not going to do that. The reason why I got the vaccination is to protect the others around me."
Harrell wasn't asked point-blank if he had been vaccinated, he offered that up himself. Other players were posed the question and showed no apprehension in saying yes.
Kispert, a rookie first round pick, viewed the decision in practical terms related to his job as an NBA player.
"I mean, it’s all about at the end of the day, it’s our job to be on the floor. So, whatever you think is best for you in that regard and how you can get out on the floor, compete and stay healthy for the season, that’s kind of the main objective and the main goal," Kispert said.
Dinwiddie also explained his decision as a duty of his profession. But he went further and detailed how he may have thought differently if he weren't in the position he's in.
Dinwiddie said the NBA's rules encouraging players to get the shot helped sway him.
"I think the job has a piece to play in this and also my parents being a little bit older than a normal 28-year-old’s parents age. But everybody has their own factors. It’s a personal decision. I’m not going to be a guy who sits here and gets on somebody," Dinwiddie said.
As for Kuzma, it's going to be tough for fans to speculate about his vaccination status, as long as he keeps it under wraps. He didn't say whether he got vaccinated or not and later sent out a tweet suggesting he did not like being asked about it in the first place.
Kuzma's reference to vaccination status being a personal matter led to a question by one reporter of what he meant by that.
"I think certain things in health, or whatever you may go about, things should be personal, especially for us as athletes and the platforms that we have, we don’t get much private time and freedom in that nature," Kuzma said.
"I believe certain things should always be kept in the house because one, with how the world is today it is much better to stay as private as you can, if that kind of makes sense. That’s not a bad thing, it’s not a wrong thing to ask for. Certain players may go about that in their life because of that simple reason. I don’t think there’s anything right or wrong to that."
That could be the stance of a guy who is unvaccinated or simply someone who learned something from playing in the spotlight as a member of the Lakers and just wants some privacy. You be the judge.
Regardless, Monday featured some uncomfortable conversations not usually seen on media day. But as long as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, it will be a factor in the NBA, one way or another.