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NBA will require teams to hold COVID info session in latest push to vaccinate all players

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As NBA teams go deep into training camp, the league will make a push before the season opener to get more players vaccinated.

By Oct. 8, all teams must “hold at least a 15-minute education and awareness session (in which a team physician and the team GM must participate) with players and Tier 1 personnel,” the NBA said in its 61-page COVID-19 healthy and safety document for the 2021-22 season.

The meetings are designed to share information, rather than persuasion, while delivering facts about the vaccine and COVID and dispelling myths about the vaccine. Personal stories about receiving the vaccine may be shared, too, and teams will relay information about current COVID rates and review protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players.

If there are players still debating whether to receive the vaccine – and there are, including Washington’s Bradley Beal – teams should also show Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns' message that told of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on him and his family.

Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has lost seven family members, including his mother, to COVID. His story convinced two teammates to get the vaccine.
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has lost seven family members, including his mother, to COVID. His story convinced two teammates to get the vaccine.

Towns' mother, Jacqueline, his uncle and five other family members died of complications after contracting COVID. He lost 50 pounds while battling the virus.

“Every day I see a new excuse why people ain’t getting the vaccine,” Towns wrote on Twitter. “Ya starting to get creative with these 'reasons' though and it’s actually really funny.”

Towns’ story convinced two teammates who weren’t going to get the vaccine to get it.

NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in Rolling Stone, "The NBA should insist that all players and staff are vaccinated or remove them from the team.”

The NBA tried to negotiate as vaccine mandate but the National Basketball Players Association (players’ union) objected.

The league on Tuesday informed teams in a memo that unvaccinated players will be subject to restrictive protocols, including regular COVID testing and quarantines for contact tracing. Their ability to participate in activities outside of their residence or hotel also will be limited, among other measures.

At least seven teams are fully vaccinated and at least five more teams are expected to reach 100% before the start of the season. The NBPA said more than 90% of players are vaccinated and that number is expected to grow by the first week of the season.

Vaccinated players have played their response right down the middle, saying it’s the right thing for them but without chastising the unvaccinated.

Portland’s C.J. McCollum, who recently replaced Chris Paul as president of the players’ union, acknowledged the difficult of 450-plus people all agreeing on an issue. While the union encourages the vaccine and the NBA is twisting arms, there are holdouts – Beal, Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins, Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac and Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. the most prominent.

“There’s 450 players with 450 different mindsets, 450 different types of upbringings, so the biggest thing is to respect everyone’s opinions and try to educate them as best you can,” McCollum said.

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Beal indicated he is considering receiving the vaccine, and there is widespread belief Kyrie Irving will eventually get it, too.

Wiggins, Isaac and Porter are entrenched in their positions. Porter, who has had COVID twice, and Isaac are not at risk at missing games just because they aren’t vaccinated. That’s not the case for Wiggins who plays home games in San Francisco where there is vaccine mandate for Warriors employees. Wiggins will forfeit salary for each missed game, and if he misses 41 home games, that amount could reach nearly $10 million. That’s Wiggins’ choice but he is also hurting his teammates who are trying to win games.

How will Denver’s teammates feel about Porter if he has to miss games to a quarantine and the Nuggets lose a game that costs them a seed in the playoffs?

Above that, there’s health. Even if a young, otherwise healthy NBA player doesn’t suffer significant illness – though Beal’s friend and Boston star Jayson Tatum had extended side effects from COVID – that player is at risk of infecting others, especially other unvaccinated people who are hospitalized and dying at a higher rate than those vaccinated.

It is indeed a personal choice, but one that can impact others, and the league will keep making that point even after these team meetings.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA's latest push to vaccinate players is requiring COVID info sessions