How will the NBA handle playing inside and travel in a Covid-19 world

Back in June, the NBA proposed a plan that would shock the world. In the middle of a global pandemic, with a virus that was believed to be more contagious than anyone we’ve seen, the league decided to not only restart the postponed season but also finish it, all confined within a bubble. Then a massive outbreak broke in the same state they were planning the bubble. Despite criticism and skepticism, they stuck with it and pulled it off. Now the league is about to tackle a whole new challenge, starting and finishing another season, this time no bubble and with travel.

In the United States, playing an indoor sport and not confined to a bubble, is something we have not seen accomplished during the Covid-19 age. It’s completely unprecedented. We saw baseball play a season with travel and also are middle of an NFL season where they too are traveling. Both leagues have had their troubles with small Covid outbreaks, and now the NBA looks to try their hand at it, except they have a much different hurdle to get over, they have to play inside. Something US leagues haven’t tackled yet outside of a bubble environment.

One thing the NBA, it’s players, and fans have to their advantage, is that throughout the whole bubble process the league showed a willingness to work with experts and doctors, they showed a willingness to put players health ahead of the league, and formulated a well thought out plan that allowed them to finish the season with no positive cases after initial intake. The league proved that they are willing to adapt to circumstances, prioritize health, listen to experts, and get the job done, and therefore should gain the trust and respect of the players and fans to do the same heading into this again unprecedented, never before done situation.

It has been questioned a ton, on many national pods how the league is going to pull something off so unprecedented and never been done. There are a ton of questions:

  • How will they handle off time?
  • How will they handle testing?
  • What happens if a player tests positive?
  • Can an outbreak be contained if they are inside and traveling?

All of these questions are legitimate questions, and the fact that it hasn’t been done yet in the US makes it even harder to speculate if it’s possible. But, what if maybe we do have something to look at, and see how something like this is handled? What if there was a precedent set that the NBA could learn from and could take some advice from? What about the Euro-League?

The US and Europe are in two different situations with the virus right now, so just because it works in Europe doesn’t mean it will be 100% effective here, but there is a blueprint that the NBA can use.

The EuroLeague has been back running since September, so I reached out to New Jersey native and EuroLeague champion Kyle Hines, to ask him a few questions about how they are handling it overseas. Kyle is a four-time champion, two-time Best Defender, and is a member of the 2010-2020 Euroleague All-Decade Team. He currently plays for Olimpia Milano.

Earlier this year I did a story about Kyle and Tyler Hines and what they have done to make their home community better. It’s a great story, and I’m thrilled to have friends who do so much for kids in our area. If you missed it, I definitely recommend reading.

Kyle was gracious enough to answer some questions about his season so far this year, and give us some insight into how the NBA may handle the virus while traveling and playing indoors.

How are you, family, friends, and teammates holding up through all this?

Our teammates our family and friends were holding up pretty well given the circumstances. obviously, we are living in the middle of a pandemic, things are constantly changing from day to day, We’ve been here since July, We started training camp after a quarantine period, all the Americans had to come here and quarantine for 14 days and we have been practicing and playing games since. We’ve had a few postponements in our schedule but for the most part, the teams have been continuing on. The numbers have been going up here in Milan, which is one of the hardest-hit regions. Right now we’re in kind of a partial lockdown, the only things that are open are grocery stores or essential stores, everything else is closed. We have a mandatory curfew of 9 pm. It’s the current state we are living in right now. The biggest thing we are all trying to do is remain flexible throughout the situations, we all know why we are here and what we are here for, trying to still be able to play while remaining safe and healthy.

How is living in Italy, always wanted to go there?

Living in Italy is great, especially in Milan. It’s a beautiful city, it’s an international city. There are a lot of great things to do here, I’ve been enjoying my time here, I started my career here 12/11 years ago, in a different region, Milan is beautiful, it’s a great city, me and my family are enjoying our time here.

Obviously Covid-19 is still a major issue around the world, the US hasn’t seen indoor sports played yet, but you guys have been back a while, right?

Yea so basketball has been back, it’s been played here. We started our regular season in October, we started our preseason games in September, so we’ve been playing. We’ve had some interruptions in the season, some postponements, due to some teams having some positives, but the leagues have done a great job to implement protocols and somethings to protect us. But we have had some teams that have had it that have caused postponements. In our Euro League so far, we have had 4 postponed games that we will eventually have to make up. In the Italian league, we have been able to play even though some teams had it and they have been forced to postpone, but it’s almost inevitable, kind of like you are seeing in college football, NFL, and Major Lague baseball, where they have postponements, and once a team had it they to quarantine and shut down the facilities. But we have protocols in place, thanks to the Euro League Players Associations and some other medical groups that have put in some protocols. We get tested regularly and we have safety restrictions and distance restrictions in our facilities. Right now nobody knows what the future holds but we are just taking it week by week, just doing what we can do to control the situation by taking hygiene and testing seriously. It’s similar to the situation you’ve seen in the states with NFL, college football, and MLB, where they had numbers popping up and teams are having to postpone.

Do you guys travel?

Yes, we travel. Fortunately for us, our team travels by charter, so we are able to, I guess kind of escape the risk of being in an airport environment where you are around people. Because we travel by charter we are in a more controlled environment, we are around people on our team and staff, that we know have been tested and know that have been following the protocol. That, for us, keeps us safe and puts us at less risk.

Do you have any fans in attendance?

For our team it started we had 10% of the Arena’s capacity. Our arena is a 12000 seat arena, so we were allowed initially, I think less than 1200 people. Then they moved it down to 700, now we aren’t allowed any fans. But if you go to different countries have different regulations to this, like if you go to Russia or Lithuania they are allowing fans, just in limited numbers. It just depends on the regulations of that country.

What Covid-19 protocols are in place for you guys? Do they have quarantine rules, if so how strict?

Right now we are under a partial lockdown, bc our numbers are really high, so the government has made us lockdown like I said before only grocery stores and pharmacies are really open and we have a curfew. But up until then the team was regulating or making it mandatory that we couldn’t go out and about. Their biggest concern was to remain safe and try not to be in crowded areas like restaurants., but still live your life. We get tested on a regular basis so that helps too. I think guys felt safer because we get tested on a regular basis and know the results. But for the most part, there hasn’t been any regulatory I guess you can call it quarantine, up until the government set this new lockdown. But when we travel, it depends on the country we go to, because in some countries, their borders are closed and they are only allowing us to come in by special permission we have to remain in the hotel and can only go to the hotel and the gym and back. So it all really depends on the country.

Has anyone you have known tested positive since starting this season?

I’ve known a lot of players who tested positive. Fortunately, many have been asymptomatic. They didn’t have any major issues just needed to follow quarantine and protocols to come back and get back to their normal selves. Yes, I know players and staff who have tested positive.

If so, what do they do? And how do teams adjust?

If they have it, we have a strict set of protocols we have to follow. Players have to quarantine for 14 days and to come back they have to get two negative tests within a 24 hour period and then there are strict things they have to follow, like cardio and medical testing they have to pass in order to play. we have strict protocols in place that if a player does catch it they have to follow to come back.

If you guys are pulling it off, do you think the NBA gets through this season?

I think the NBA has an opportunity to pull it off. obviously, there will be positive tests, that’s just the reality of it. But the NBA has enough resources to keep players happy and safe to pull it off. You have seen it with MLB, the NFL is doing it now, to an extent we are doing it now, but like I said it’s inevitable there will be some games that are going to be postponed, there will be players that have it, there may be a large number of players from one team that may have it. It’s kind of inevitable going through a pandemic, with a virus, that as a whole we are still learning about more and more day today, so I think they can pull it off but I do think there will be interruptions or postponements throughout the season.

The EuroLeague and the NBA are much different in terms of the number of teams, players, how they travel, and the number of games, but the foundation is there. The NBA can look and see what the Euro-League is doing and start from there. As you can see, the league started in September and is still going on, so whatever they are doing is working. The NBA has been innovated throughout the process of shutting down, starting again in the bubble, and now again starting a league on a short offseason, but as innovated as they have been, it hasn’t been just the league. They have listened and learned from experts, doctors, and scientists and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were watching and talking to the Euro League to help understand what they can expect as we close in on the December 22th start date.

Everything we do in the Covid-19 age is somewhat unprecedented, and mostly brand new to us, but as we can see with European professional basketball, it is possible to accomplish, and there is blueprint already to make it work. With some tweaks and changes that better fit our situation in the United States, I have no doubt the NBA can pull this off too.

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