While the NBA's bubble this summer at Disney World was a massive financial and logistical undertaking, the benefit was that by keeping all of the players isolated from the general population, they were able to keep everyone COVID-19 free. That won't be the case this season.
Even with the best possible protocols, the pandemic is spreading at such a rate that infections will essentially be unavoidable with teams playing games in their home arenas and traveling from city to city. There will be players, coaches and team officials who test positive for COVID-19, as we've unfortunately already seen with 48 players testing positive in the last week of November.
Ahead of the season, the league has sent teams a 158-page health and safety document outlining best practices and protocols that teams and players are expected to follow. With the stakes so high, the league has also sent out a warning that there will be severe punishments for those who break the rules, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
The NBA has warned teams that protocol violations that lead to coronavirus spread impacting opposing teams and causing schedule derailments could result in "fines, suspensions, adjustment or loss of draft choices and game forfeitures," according to a memo obtained by ESPN.
For players violating safety protocols this season, the league warns that the possibility of in-season quarantine and reduced paychecks loom as possibilities. While the memo doesn't outline the length of quarantines, it says that any such player "may be subject to a proportionate adjustment to pay for any games missed during the period that the player is in quarantine and undergoing testing due to engaging in such activities and/or conduct."
In a 158-page Health and Safety Memo shared with teams Saturday morning, teams were informed that the league may "conduct unannounced in-person inspections of team facilities" to discover whether organizations are staying compliant with COVID-19 safety protocols.
These are serious consequences, but then again this is a serious situation. This virus has already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and made millions more ill. And while NBA players are generally in good health and unlikely to face the worst symptoms, there are no guarantees.
Just take the case of Orlando Magic big man Mo Bamba, who is still dealing with side effects despite getting COVID-19 back in June. Even if players don't die, this can still derail careers. Plus, of course, there are also coaches, staffers and family members who could be impacted and aren't professional athletes in peak physical condition.
That's why it's important for everyone involved to follow protocols and do everything in their power to keep themselves and others safe. Infections are going to happen in the course of going about league business; no one involved can afford to make what's already going to be a difficult situation even worse.