Adam Silver talks about what's next for NBA, calls players potential 'super spreaders' of coronavirus

The NBA is under fire for using limited coronavirus testing resources for its players.

Fans are wondering what’s next for the NBA and how the league reached the extraordinary decision to shut down last Wednesday.

Commissioner Adam Silver addressed those issues and more on Wednesday during an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

Silver not surprised by positive Nets tests

Among the latest news to come from the league related to the COVID-19 pandemic is that four Brooklyn Nets players tested positive, including Kevin Durant.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

Citing the growing rate of the outbreak in New York and the nature of the NBA, Silver told Nichols that the news wasn’t unexpected.

“I honestly was not all that surprised,” Silver said. “I think based on what we’re hearing and given the lack of testing that’s available, my sense is especially in the New York area that if you took almost any random group of New Yorkers that it would be likely there are going to be some positive tests.”

Silver: NBA players as ‘super spreaders’

Silver categorized NBA players as potential “super spreaders” of COVID-19, a designation that’s becoming more widely used as some young Americans have been shirking social distancing protocols by packing beaches over spring break and bars over the St. Patrick’s day weekend.

With symptoms of COVID-19 generally surfacing as minor or non-existent in young, healthy people, they can spread the virus without realizing they’re infected, an impact that’s exacerbated in the absence of social distancing.

“You could put our players in the category that some would refer to as super spreaders,” Silver continued. “That is they are young people who are working in close proximity with each other. They are traveling at great frequency.

“They are regularly in large groups including the public. For the young cohort in particular, a large number of them are asymptomatic. If they do have symptoms, they’re relatively mild.”

‘The issue is if you hug grandma’

Silver then hammered home the risk that comes from not practicing proper social distancing protocols.

“The issue is if you hug grandma, frankly, you could be putting her in jeopardy,” Silver said. … “It’s particularly lethal for older people and people with underlying conditions.”

Adam Silver defended the NBA's use of coronavirus tests. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
Adam Silver defended the NBA's use of coronavirus tests. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

NBA under fire for testing

As for coronavirus testing in the NBA, Silver defended the league’s use of limited resources, which has come under fire as the general public struggles to find access to tests.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the NBA on Thursday after news broke of the Nets being tested.

Silver defends NBA’s use of coronavirus testing

Silver addressed the criticism and said that the NBA was simply following recommendations of health officials. In the case of the Utah Jazz being tested in the aftermath of last week’s canceled game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he told Nichols that the team wasn’t given a choice.

“We’ve been following the recommendations of public health officials,” Silver said regarding coronavirus testing. … “The Utah Jazz did not ask to be tested. An Oklahoma public health official there on the spot not only required that they be tested, but they weren’t allowed to leave their locker room for at least four hours after the game.”

The revelation just before tip-off of that game that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had contracted coronavirus prompted Silver to suspend league play, a decision that had a domino effect as professional and amateur sports leagues followed suit.

Silver confirmed that eight teams had undergone testing for COVID-19.

Silver explains ‘split-second’ decision to suspend NBA

Silver touted the decision to shut down the league as raising a flag in the United States to take the pandemic seriously.

“People were not taking these protocols all that seriously until the NBA did what it did,” Silver said.

He also explained the real-time decision to shut down. League owners met via conference call earlier that day and were split on whether to call a hiatus or to continue to play without fans in attendance.

Once Gobert’s test results arrived, Silver said the decision was clear to shut down the league that moment.

“We made in essence a split second decision that we should call the game,” Silver said. “But we wanted to be careful that we didn’t overly alarm 19,000 people who needed to exit an arena in an orderly way.

“So we waited to make the announcement until the people were out of the building. … It seemed in that moment the right thing to do was to suspend the operation of the season.”

Silver said he was not advised by public health officials to suspend league play.

So what’s next for NBA?

As for what’s next for the NBA amid so many unknowns, Silver hesitated to make predictions. He declined to place a percentage on whether the league resumes the season or predict what the season would like like if it did.

He explained that as of now, he’s considering three different approaches to the return to play if the 2019-20 season is to resume.

1: When can the league restart as normal with fans?

2: Should the league consider restarting without fans?

3: In the interim, can the league gather a group of players to compete for the “collective good” as sports fans are stuck at home without any sports programming.

“All suggestions are welcome,” Silver said in regard to the idea of non-traditional NBA competition.

But he reiterated that the league wouldn’t start again until he gets the go-ahead from public health officials.

“We’re gonna try by every means we can to play basketball again,” Silver said. “The safety and health of our players is first — and our fans, which is why I don’t want to speculate more than that.”

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