The NBA’s delay is how do you prepare for the inevitable?

Despite the NBA's best efforts, it will be almost impossible to keep the bubble completely safe. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Despite the NBA's best efforts, it will be almost impossible to keep the bubble completely safe. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Recent signs in Central Florida suggest the coronavirus is not fully under control yet and there is a realization the specter will remain over the league.

There is excitement for the NBA’s potential return in late July but also a fair amount of trepidation and anxiety about it.

For players, they are eager to play again. That is what they do. And their job, like so many other people around the country (although they still received their multimillion salaries, so empathy goes only so far), was put on hold. Their offices closed and they could not do the basic thing they have spent their whole life doing.

That is about where the comparison to the everyday person ends.

The league like so many other businesses is plotting its reopening course. But it is different and difficult.

Sports by its very nature require physical contact and working in close proximity with other people. Not to mention the sweat. Playing sports is the exact opposite of all the social distancing guidelines health experts have put in place.

But the sports industry presses on.

Governments want them to bring some kind of normalcy to life — just as fans and citizens want to feel some kind of normal. Players and leagues want it to return so they can try to recoup some of the financial losses they have suffered.

The virus does not wait for anyone though. That has been the consistent message from health officials. And so while everyone is eager to get back to normal, the coronavirus lingers in the background.

It is the boogeyman keeping everyone in stasis. Not afraid to go out, by any means. But the fear is still there.

NBA players feel it. They do not want to go back to work if there is a chance the virus can spread. The league does not want that either.

Part of the trust the players have built with the players is the belief the league has the players’ best interests in mind and the players are a partner in all of this.

And so the NBA hatched its plan to bring every player to Disney to finish the season. They believe they could get through the final quarter of the season and the Playoffs by sequestering everyone in a campus setting — or bubble — duck their heads and get to the end.

But the danger remains. And that is the constant reminder for the league and every player right now. There is no avoiding this reality.

The big negotiation left between the league and its players is setting up and approving a testing protocol to make sure players remain healthy and safe while they are all in the same resort. And even more important, if there is an infection, separating that person so he does not infect the rest of the bubble.

This is going to prove very difficult. And a few developments at home in Orlando are only going to add to the worry.

A local spike in positive tests

As expected, reopening more businesses and moving to the next phase of reopening has led to more interactions and a lessening of social distancing. It is not a surprise to see the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 bump up.

But in Orange County, it has bumped up fairly significantly.

According to data from Florida’s Department of Health, Orange County reported 78 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday. That is the most the county has seen in the last month and the 58 and 55 cases reported on Saturday and Sunday were more than any day except one in the last month.

Things are not as bad as other places in Florida, but it is a troubling sign and something for Central Florida to keep an eye on.

The point here is that Orange County saw a generally downward trend in new cases. But in the last few days, there has been a dramatic increase in cases, likely because of the reopening of the economy and the move toward phase two — for instance, Universal Orlando and other small attractions in the area reopened, leading to more opportunity for people to be in crowds.

Things are still worse elsewhere.

In South Florida counties, where the majority of cases in the state are located, and it is a bit more troubling. Where Orange County saw a spike, Dade County’s reported new cases stayed fairly flat (around 230 new cases per day, but down from a high of 540 in mid-May). Broward saw a small spike up to 140 the last few days, but it has stayed relatively flat. And Palm Beach County saw has fluctuated but has stayed at slightly more than 200.

More from Orlando Magic Daily

South Florida is still dealing with a huge outbreak. But the numbers are trending down there.

And that is the concerning part. This spike does not have a clear explanation that isolates it from other areas. Every part of the state is reopening. So why is only Orange County seeing such a dramatic increase in positive tests?

It is fair to say too that Mondays tend to be higher reporting days as full reporting numbers are not always available on the weekends. At the time of writing, the state had not released Tuesday’s numbers.

This is a cause for concern, but it is not crippling. It is good to see people still taking the need for testing seriously. And the increase in positive results is not impacting the availability of tests — or the availability of hospital space.

Presumably one of the reasons why Central Florida was attractive to a place like the NBA was that the number of cases was going down, Disney could seal things off for the league to create its campus and the area could easily provide the tests needed to test a significant number of players presumably daily.

The increase in cases is concerning, but not entirely surprising.

The real question comes in preventing the spread and then what to do when someone within the bubble catches the disease.

Lessons from reopened college teams

At this point, it feels like it is inevitable that someone within the campus setting will catch the coronavirus despite the league’s best efforts to seal the world — and the virus — out.

That is already happening in some areas that have set up safety protocols and resumed workouts.

UCF invited several football players back to campus to begin individual workouts. However, three players tested positive for COVID-19 even after all the safety precautions the university went through (including testing them before they returned to campus).

UCF is touting this as proof their system works. Their constant testing caught the disease before it could spread further. And athletes were socially distanced enough that they are not concerned of further spread.

But their medical expert said it was also not surprising considering all the different places players were arriving from. Officials at the University of Florida also believe it is a matter of when not if a player in their charge gets the virus.

Even with their best efforts, they understand the somewhat inevitability of positive cases. The world has made a dent but has not defeated this virus. Going back to some semblance of normal is a risk for everyone.

The NBA’s lessons

The NBA probably understands this lesson too. They understand that despite all their best efforts, there is still a very real chance the virus will enter their world once again.

It has never truly gone away.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The league is going to do its best to keep it away. It is going to come up with a protocol to test players and isolate any positive tests quickly. The league is going to have to understand and have every contingency planned for.

For now, it seems like the league plans to test players every day. It plans to have an initial test and possibly quarantine period when teams arrive at Disney before the season resumes. They are going to try to make sure everyone is clean before they enter the campus.

If a player tests positive, they will likely be quarantined for 10-14 days and then tested again after that quarantine period. It appears as though the league will require two negative tests before allowing the player to rejoin the team.

It is unclear whether that will be enough should the virus somehow penetrate the bubble.

The reality is nobody may really know if this will be enough.

That is the only way this thing will work. And that is the part the league is still working out.

Next. Orlando Magic excited to return, eager to play again. dark

The recent news in Central Florida should serve as a reminder of how fragile things are and how much work there is still left to do to make this whole experiment safe.