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Ever towards the almighty dollar the NBA marches

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For better or worse, the NBA has decided to take the risk

2020 NBA All-Star - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

One hundred thousand, two hundred seventeen, that’s the number at time of writing. One hundred thousand, two hundred seventeen people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Florida alone. Nearly three thousand were added to the count yesterday. Over four thousand, a new single day high, were added on Saturday. The number of new cases has been rising steadily since May 27th, when just 379 new cases were recorded. In less than a month, Florida has seen a 10x increase of daily new cases. In just over a month, the NBA restarts their 20019/2020 season in Orlando.

Based solely on the first paragraph, sending a bunch of athletes to Orlando to compete in an event that is purely for the sake of entertainment seems silly, if not outright reckless. Two things to consider though: one is the ability by the NBA to mitigate the hazard, the other is of course the money. I’ve said it on the Denver Stiffs Show and I’ll say it here. Make no mistake, there is only one way to ensure the NBA goes about finishing the season safely and that is to cancel it. No matter what they do, any re-start plan will carry risk. Any re-start plan carries with it the understanding that this could contribute to making the problem worse, this could get someone killed and that’s something the NBA in it’s entirety just has to accept. The alternative is lose millions of dollars.

No matter what we think of the NBA, no matter how many examples they’ve presented of being a progressive league that embraces science, data and change, it is an inescapable fact that at the end of the day they are a business. Not just any business either, an $8 billion a year business. So while perhaps the right course of action for a business that embraces data and science is to shut it down altogether, well, as they say, money talks. I could write 5000 words talking about the morality of it, about how prioritizing billions of dollars over thousands, or hundreds or even one person is yet another example of this country’s morally bankrupt economic system, but I’d just be shouting into the wind. The NBA, for better or worse, has decided the show must go on.

To a certain extent that is their right, and the right of any business. The NBA should be able to conduct business and make profits. Free market and opportunity for business is the building blocks in which America is built on albeit sometimes under questionable morals. The issue comes when conducting business presents a risk to others by no fault of their own. That is where the NBA has to navigate a tricky scenario. Are a bunch of healthy athletes who will be getting tested almost daily and under some of the strictest lock down provisions in the country going to contribute to the spread of the disease? No one can say for sure but it’s at least reasonable to say the NBA bubble is no more likely to be a contributing factor to the spread of COVID-19 than the every day activities of the general population given how serious the NBA is taking it versus the countless Americans, including many in Florida, who are not. My opinion has always been if the NBA could finish the season without contributing to the spread of COVID-19 then it should be up to the players whether or not the season resumes. The players after all are taking the biggest risk. The problem is though, the NBA isn’t going to keep the risk limited to its own organization and it’s subsidiaries.

As reported by Zach Lowe and Baxter Holmes of ESPN a chief concern of NBA players is that the resort support staff is not subject to the same rules as NBA players are....they’re not subject to any of them from what I can tell. Housekeepers, chefs, administrative staff and others are free to leave the resort each day after work. No one is monitoring where they are going, they aren’t wearing Oura rings and they aren’t going to be subject o any coronavirus testing. They are normal people living normal lives and going to work. Some will take this thing as seriously as the NBA, but what we’ve seen over the past few months is that it’d be foolish to think that every one of Disney’s staff will take it as serious as they should. That breakdown in the NBA’s “bubble” makes it look more like a sieve. That breakdown makes this whole NBA experiment no safer or different than any other activity the general public engages in where the inescapable risk of others indifference is present.

Which brings us back to the chief question, should they do it? Is it morally and ethically acceptable to risk others lives in the name of profits? When we paint the picture like that the answer is obviously no, but it’s a bit more complicated in my estimation. We’ve spent the past few months really diving into what is and isn’t an essential business. Indeed, even the word essential has become subject of scrutiny and philosophical debate. There are of course certain industries/businesses that are clearly essential. Utilities have to stay on, emergency services have to keep running, grocery stores have to stay stocked and open. All the things that are required to be able to live life even from the confines of are houses are clearly essential. However, what about the small business owner who put their life savings and tireless amount of work into creating a successful restaurant? What about the hotel clerk who is a single mom and the only source of income to provide food and shelter to her children? Just because a business isn’t considered essential doesn’t mean the business isn’t essential to someone. There is credence to the idea that some risk of infection of COVID-19 is preferable to being made homeless, to going hungry, to seeing your entire life’s work being ruined.

Unfortunately for the NBA, it’s hard to make a jump from single mom needs to go to work to provide for her family to the millionaires and billionaires need to keep cashing those checks. The Disney bubble plan already eliminated the vast majority of low wage workers depending on the league for a salary. There will be no concessions vendors, no ushers, no arena operations staff, save for the few who will work at Disney. We’ve long since been past the idea that the NBA could save those jobs for this season (it should be noted that many NBA teams, including the Denver Nuggets, have taken measures to protect the financial well being of these employees). This is about money, this is about the millionaires and billionaires not losing a portion of their millions and billions.

Is that right or wrong? It’s not up to me, it’s not up to any of us at this point. As Holmes and Lowe stated in their article, NBA commissioner Adam Silver appears to be resolute on this course of action. He undoubtedly knows it’s this or nothing and has said from the get go that there was a certain amount of risk the NBA and it’s players had to be willing to take in order to finish the season. The NBA and what appears to be the majority of the players on the twenty-two teams traveling to Orlando have made the decision it’s the right thing to do, I just hope they understand all the implications of the risk they are taking and that they’re doing it in the name of the dollar, nothing more.