The latest on some NBA players’ uncertainty about the league’s return to play

After what has felt like an eternity, the NBA is finally set to resume play next month at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The return to play gives fans a chance to see their squads chase a championship, and the NBA is the first of the three major sports leagues that was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League included – to return to play

However, while it might be a welcome sight for NBA fans, there has been some pushback on the behalf of a group of NBA players, and reports are that over 100 players are hesitant to make the trip to Orlando and remain in an isolated bubble for potentially the next several months.

According to NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the combination of the isolated nature of the NBA “bubble” in Orlando, as well as the lack of incentive for players on teams not favored to win a title, has a faction of players struggling to find a reason to return for the 2019-20 season.

As players have started to come to terms with the restrictive and isolated nature of the Orlando bubble — including no visitors until after the first round of the playoffs, nearly seven weeks after the opening of mid-July training camp — there has been increased dialogue about the prudence of restarting the season for a number of players, especially those on non-championship contenders, sources said.

Executives and coaches around the NBA have had significant concerns about how players will adapt to an environment unlike any they’ve ever experienced and how those hurdles could impact the sustained competitive drive for teams. Many have worried, too, especially on teams that aren’t title contenders, whether some players will start to seek avenues to bypass the resumption altogether.

The circumstances of the NBA “bubble” will be intense to say the least.

With the season set to begin on June 30, players, coaches and staff from 22 teams will live on-campus at the Disney World Resort and undergo daily coronavirus testing. No fans will be allowed to attend the final eight regular season games before the playoffs or any playoff games. Players will not be allowed to have guests – including family members – until after the first round of the playoffs, which looks to be at the end of August.

Some players remain more concerned with the coronavirus pandemic than others, and further complicating the matter is the fact that while Disney employees will be subject to special rules and regulations, they will not be required to remain in the bubble for the duration of the NBA season, which NBC’s Tom Haberstroh expanded upon on Thursday.

“Disney workers have not been told to quarantine on campus, according to Eric Clinton, president of Disney’s labor union, United Here Local 362, which represents custodians and ride operators. There will be protocols in place, however. At this point, Disney staffers will be required to wear a mask at all times. Beginning June 14, per the latest labor agreement between Disney and the 38,000 members of Service Trades Council Union, Disney employees will be required to do a temperature check at a designated central location before proceeding to work. If the employee’s temperature is below 100.4, they will remain at work. If the employee’s temperature is at or above 100.4, the employee will be given “a cool-down period” and then undergo a recheck. If it remains at or above 100.4, the employee will be sent home.”

New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick offered this retort:

In response to the news that certain players are against arriving at the bubble, the NBA has said that teams can use substitution players if needed, and if any player in the bubble contracts the virus, teams can replace them.

In addition, players that do not join the bubble will not be paid for the games they miss, but they will not face consequences beyond that.

Former NBA center Kendrick Perkins spoke on the situation on ESPN’s The Jump on Thursday, saying he doesn’t fault the players who are opposed to showing up in Orlando due to the health risks.

“You can’t knock a guy … for not wanting to go and play and participate because right now I think that the coronavirus has been overshadowed by the death of George Floyd, and civil rights, and the protesting. The coronavirus is still here, cases are still rising, people are still dying. Just think about it, one of our NBA brothers Karl Antony-Towns lost his mother to coronavirus. I can’t be mad at any player that wants to stay home and not participate during these trying times.”

The isolation of the bubble is also a major concern of some players considering they will be away from their families for at least a month and a half.

Shannon Sharpe likened the isolation to NFL training camp, but also understands it is an even higher level of isolation than he has experienced before in his football career.

“I liked being secluded, I liked going to training camp. Now this is going to be extra, extra secluded because basically they are saying … no one in and no one out, especially family members, and then you really can’t leave the campus. So guys are like, ‘Hold on, wait a minute. I can’t leave at all? I can’t go to the store? I can’t go walk around?’ … You’re asking an awful lot. Basically, you’re putting people in an experiment. You’re putting them in a glass bubble for maybe six to eight weeks.”

Of course, the idea of keeping the players, coaches and staff in the bubble is to keep the person-to-person contact at a minimum, which will obviously lessen the chances of spreading the virus if someone were to contract it.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer further detailed how the NBA plans to go about testing players and team members upon their arrival in Orlando, as well as the precautions that will be taken place if a player were to test positive for COVID-19.

“Upon arrival, all team members will be tested and then could be quarantined in their rooms for 36 hours. Daily testing will follow the quarantine period. The league is exploring the use of a saliva mouth swab to replace the uncomfortable deep-nasal swab often used for the coronavirus. If a player tests positive, they will need to quarantine for at least 10 days and have two negative tests before rejoining their team. The same is true if a player leaves the league’s Disney World campus, which will be closed off to the public. If a player leaves and returns, they will need to quarantine for at least 10 days and test negative twice before rejoining.”

As of Friday morning, Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports shared more layers to the NBA saga, revealing that the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, as well as the current social climate, has also caused players to be weary of a return to play.

“The unease about relocating to a quarantined campus during the COVID-19 pandemic was already viewed as hazardous and unnecessary to many players. But because of the George Floyd tragedy and the powerful movement for racial justice that’s sweeping the nation, some players believe it’s bad optics for a league comprised predominantly of black men to be sequestered in one location for up to three months merely to entertain the masses and ease the league’s economic burden, sources said.”

Haynes also revealed that “several players have been reluctant to express their views in fear of opposing the superstars who are adamant about playing if proper safety measures are in place.”

Those superstars include LeBron James and president of the National Basketball Players Association Executive Committee Chris Paul.

Also as of Friday morning, Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks reported that the number of players willing to sit out has tripled from the 50 that were initially reported by Wojnarowski.

Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck built on Rooks’ report, and somewhat shockingly revealed that injured Brooklyn Nets superstar is leading the charge in regards to the faction of players considering not finishing the season.

Irving hasn’t played in months after undergoing shoulder impingement surgery on March 3 and was not slated to play in the bubble, but what makes the situation even more nuanced is that Irving is one of several vice presidents that make up the NBPA Executive Committee.

According to Haynes and Beck, Irving organized the call that will take place tonight and he believes that the racial tension in America should be taken into account when considering resuming the season.

Apparently, Irving isn’t the only one.

And, he also isn’t the only superstar who is raising concerns regarding the racial tensions in America in correlation with entering the NBA bubble.

In an interview with GQ, Portland Trail Blazers superstar point guard Damian Lillard candidly discussed his views on police brutality.

At one point in the interview, Lillard – a native of Oakland, California – discusses the idea of playing basketball amid the current climate across the United States.

I can’t speak for everybody but for me personally, I’m able to do my job more effectively when I’m in a good place personally. You know what I’m saying? And this is something that affects me personally. I’m one man. I make a lot of money as one man and I do things for a lot of people and my family. But I got a lot of people that live in Oakland and a lot of friends that are still in the neighborhood. I’m just connected to so many people that it’s like, how can I be consumed with a basketball game? Look at the lengths that we’re going to play a basketball game when there’s something so much greater going on. Something so much more meaningful going on, that really needs us. So I mean it’s a battle every day for me, man.

Irving, players share thoughts on Friday night’s conference call

The aforementioned conference call, organized by Irving, took place Friday night and more than 80 players joined the call.

And according to reports, Irving seemed to be the most outspoken of all players.

Joining Irving on the call was a laundry list of star players, including Paul.

While Irving’s message apparently came through loud and clear on the nearly 2-hour call, ESPN’s Bobby Marks laid out the financial windfall that would occur if the players did not finish the season.

LeBron James was not on Friday’s call, but he spoke with Sam Amick of The Athletic regarding finishing the season while affecting social change, and admitted that he feels he can do both.

On Saturday morning, another NBA veteran, Austin Rivers, spoke out regarding Irving’s push to not resume the season, and in his estimation, that only hurts the players, appearing to agree with James.

“I love Kyrie’s passion towards helping this movement … I’m with it … but in the right way and not at the cost of the whole NBA & players careers. We can do both. We can play & we can help change the way black lives are lived.”

With the return to play set for seven weeks from Friday, the NBA and its players have a small window of time to come to an understanding on how to handle the bubble and the decision to play.

Stay tuned for more updates.