The NBA informed its teams Tuesday night that it is finalizing an agreement with the National Basketball Players Association on a set of health and safety protocols for the upcoming regular season, according to information in a memo obtained by ESPN.
The protocols will require unvaccinated players to be under many of the same restrictions that the entire league played under for the vast majority of last season, before the COVID-19 vaccine was available.
Vaccinated players, on the other hand, will have far fewer restrictions. For example, all fully vaccinated players, as well as Tier 1 personnel — coaches and anyone else working regularly within 15 feet of players and referees, all of whom have already been mandated to get the vaccine — will not have to undergo daily testing.
The only time outside of that, vaccinated players and Tier 1 personnel will have to be tested only when they are symptomatic, a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 or a team medical staff member of league physician requires it.
Meanwhile, unvaccinated players must undergo daily testing prior to entering a team facility, participating in team-organized activities, or interacting with other players and Tier 1 personnel. They will also have to undergo lab-based game-day testing, as they did last season.
Unvaccinated players will also have to also live under a strict set of rules similar to the ones that governed their movements last season. Those include: being prohibited from dining indoors in the same room at the same time as any other player or Tier 1 personnel; required to maintain at least six feet of distance from any other person (and required to wear a face mask at all times); required to maintain at least six feet of distance during treatment sessions from any other player also receiving treatment at the same time (and required to wear a face mask at all times); required to be given a locker that is as distant from other players as possible and not next to another non-fully-vaccinated player.
Teams have also been instructed to prevent having their seating arrangements for fully unvaccinated players from sitting together.
Unvaccinated players are required to remain at their residence during home games and at the team hotel for road contests. The only exceptions are for team and essential activities, such as buying groceries or taking their children to school. They are not allowed to go to any restaurants, bars, clubs, entertainment venues or large indoor gatherings and can only have in-person interactions with non-family members with a “limited number of close personal guests” who have to be tested beforehand.
Fully vaccinated players will also not have to quarantine at all if they are a close contact, unless there are “unusual circumstances,” though they will usually have to go through daily rapid testing for the next seven days.
Unvaccinated players, meanwhile, will be required to quarantine for seven days no matter what.
One thing that will be consistent for both vaccinated and unvaccinated players is the use of face masks, which the protocols say everyone will have to wear at all times when: at a team facility (including on the bench during games, in the locker room, weight and training room, when receiving treatment and during team meetings); traveling with the team, including anytime when indoors other than when in their individual hotel room, and otherwise required under applicable federal, state, or local laws, regulations, or orders.
That won’t be the case when players are either participating in basketball activities, when showering or actively eating and drinking where allowed.
Head coaches also won’t have to be masked during games.
There are still some issues left to be determined before the final agreement is reached, including what testing will take place for fully vaccinated players during the regular season and what activities fully vaccinated players will be able to take part in outside of team activities.
Roughly 90% of the NBA’s players are vaccinated, though that leaves a handful that are not — including Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal, who said he wasn’t during the team’s media day Monday. Both the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors are also dealing with potential absences during the regular season because of executive orders in New York City and San Francisco, respectively, that require anyone in a gym — including Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and San Francisco’s Chase Center — to have at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot and be fully vaccinated, respectively.
Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving was not at the team’s media day at Barclays Center on Monday as a result of the order in New York, which went into effect earlier this month. During the Warriors’ media day, Andrew Wiggins said his vaccination status was “private” ahead of that order going into effect next month before the start of the regular season.
Those executive orders governing the vaccine only apply to the players who play in those markets; out-of-market players are exempted from them.
When asked about the lack of a vaccine mandate in the NBA earlier Tuesday, NBA executive vice president of communications Mike Bass said in a statement: “A vaccine mandate for NBA players would need an agreement with the Players Association. The NBA has made these proposals, but the players’ union has rejected any vaccination requirement.”
Later Tuesday, the NBPA’s executive director, Michele Roberts, issued her own statement on the vaccination status of the league’s players.
“Over ninety percent of our players are fully vaccinated,” Roberts said. “Nationally, on average only fifty-five of Americans are. The real story is not why vaccination isn’t mandated in the NBA. The real story for proponents of vaccination is how can we emulate the players in the NBA.”