NBA commissioner Adam Silver said fans should think of the upcoming All-Star Weekend in Atlanta as a “television-only event,” and once again discouraged fans from traveling to the game, which is being played without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The message within the NBA community is that we’re going to be operating in a mini bubble,” Silver said in an interview with ESPN on Wednesday. “There will be no NBA functions [for fans] to participate in. We appreciate their support and hope they’ll watch our All-Star Game on television … this is a television-only event in Atlanta.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has repeatedly discouraged fans from traveling to her city for the game and asked bars and nightclubs not to throw parties.
Still, a number of events purporting to have a connection to the game have been planned. The city of Brookhaven, a suburb of Atlanta, recently made national headlines when its City Council approved a measure extending pouring hours in its bars and restaurants to 4 a.m. this weekend.
“I think in terms of the nightlife in Atlanta, the state of Georgia has made a decision to keep its restaurants and clubs open,” Silver said. “That’s their right to make that decision. All we can do, on behalf of the NBA, is commit to them that we will not be participating in any way, in that nightlife.
“Our players are going to be in a work-quarantine protocol while they are in Atlanta.”
Players participating in the game and other All-Star related competitions are flying in on private planes and will be subject to the same enhanced health and safety protocols the league has operated under this season. While several star players have publicly complained about having an All-Star Weekend amid the ongoing pandemic, each of these conditions was collectively bargained with the National Basketball Players Association.
Silver said he appreciated the personal sacrifice made by everyone in the NBA since March 11 of last year, when the league shut down indefinitely following a positive test by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. From the players, coaches and staffers who spent months away from their families to complete last season in the bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and the strict health and safety protocols they’ve had to follow this season, to the NBA’s fans, who have continued to support the league, and owners, who have lost billions in revenue.
“The ability to operate in a pandemic has required an enormous amount of shared sacrifice,” Silver said.
“The players and the coaches are front and center, but there are thousands of people behind the scenes who are making, who are enabling the NBA to continue to operate. And many of them are making tremendous sacrifices in their lives. In some cases, working in 24 hours shifts because of the nature of the PCR testing we’re doing … and travel schedules and quick decisions that need to be made in terms of contact tracing and quarantining, it’s never-ending.
“It really has taken all of our collective will.”
Silver said it will take that same collective will to address the myriad challenges the league still faces at this stage in the pandemic.
This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state would fully reopen businesses and drop its mask mandate, beginning March 10. Individual businesses can still choose to require masks, however.
The three NBA teams, the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, who play in Texas will still be subject to NBA health and safety protocols for fans, just as they are in other states that have NBA markets — Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma — but do not have mask mandates.
“We’ve set our own standards,” Silver said. “In certain cases, we’ve deferred to public health officials. And in others, we believe we need to follow a national standard.
“I also recognize, and this may be even more true as we go into the future, that the United States is a big country, and it may be appropriate to have different rules in different jurisdictions. If that’s the case, we’re hoping those decisions are based on what the best health and safety information is in those communities.
“We’ll continue to work with national public health officials and local health officials to determine what those are. But so far, we believe we’ve struck the right balance. Roughly half of our teams, at this point, have fans in their arenas. We haven’t, to the best of our knowledge, had a single issue in terms of spread around among fans in our arenas.”
In addition to rapidly changing reopening plans across the country, the NBA will soon have to address how the ability to vaccinate players, coaches and staffers will impact its protocols.
That too, will be collectively bargained with the players’ association, Silver said.
“We and the players’ association are in agreement that no one should be mandated to take the vaccine,” Silver said. “My recommendation, my strong recommendation, not just to our players, but based on all the information I have, is that people should get vaccinated.
“But I recognize that these are individual decisions. I haven’t been vaccinated yet, but I will, as soon as it is my turn.”
Silver pointed to a recent CDC announcement that vaccinated people do not need to be quarantined if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19.
“That will make a big difference in this league,” Silver said. “We’ve been transparent about the positive cases we’ve had since the season has begun. But there’s also another category of players who have had to quarantine based on contact they’ve had with positive players.
“I think, for example, to accept that a vaccinated player doesn’t have to quarantine will be very liberating. In addition, we have a fairly complex set of rules in place now that in many cases require twice-a-day lab testing of our players to ensure that we can avoid spread. It may be the case that when players are vaccinated, that we’re able to loosen up the testing schedules and therefore give players more freedom.
“But I also respect that not everyone will see it the way we do. And ultimately, this is an individual decision that players need to make.”