NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Saturday said the NBA will not require anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine, however he believes “most players” will ultimately choose to do so.
“We’re seeing this now, both in the actual numbers of people getting vaccinated in the United States and opinion polls, that people are becoming more willing to get vaccinated,” Silver said during his All-Star Weekend virtual news conference from Atlanta. “I think, as to those who have been hesitators, as tens of millions of people now in the United States have gotten the vaccine, that people are seeing, at least in the short-term, what the impact is, and they’re hearing about how incredibly effective these vaccines are.
“My hunch is that most players ultimately will choose to get vaccinated. They have to make personal decisions at the end of the day — and I take that very seriously, and I take concerns very seriously. But my sense is most [players] will, ultimately, decide it is in their interest to get vaccinated.”
Part of Silver’s logic behind why players will be interested in getting a vaccine is that it will make their lives far simpler. Currently, under the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols, not only do players have to be tested as many as three times a day, but they also are subject to quarantine periods even if they don’t test positive themselves if they have been in “close contact” with someone who has.
That is what happened with All-Star Kevin Durant, for example, twice this season – including last month when he was initially held out of a game against the Toronto Raptors, only to be allowed to play midway through the first quarter and then be pulled again midway through the third, after an inconclusive test by a close contact became a positive one.
Under this scenario, if Durant had received a vaccine, he would no longer have to quarantine at all.
“In addition to the personal health benefits, to the family health benefits, the economic benefits to getting vaccinated, because of the protocols we have in place, they are incredibly burdensome on our players and on our teams,” Silver said. “But, for example, the CDC has already announced that if you’ve been vaccinated, you don’t need to quarantine as a close contact. As you know, many of our players have had to sit out not because they tested positive, but because they were required to quarantine because of a close contact.
“So, in addition, right now, as we operate under the so-called work quarantine protocol, where players are largely only going between their homes and the arena, once they get vaccinated they’ll be able to do more in their communities. And that’s something we’ve already begun talking to the Players Association about. So there will be some real advantages and benefits to getting vaccinated for the players.”
The NBA has had to postpone 31 games so far due to the league’s health and safety protocols, with several teams — including the Washington Wizards, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs — having to miss multiple games due to not having enough players available to play in a game.
Silver, however, said he believes it is “realistic” to complete the playoffs without mandatory vaccinations for players because he believes the league’s protocols have largely worked.
“I think it is realistic, even if we didn’t have required vaccinations because, of course, no one — none of the players — have been vaccinated now, and we’ve only had to postpone a relatively small percentage of games,” Silver said. “We know that for the most part, a testing protocol, together with mask wearing and all the other precautions we’re taking, largely works.
“The NCAA tournament is going to be played this year, and again, without vaccinations for their players. To me, we’ll make additional progress if players get vaccinated, but it certainly doesn’t require that they all get vaccinated.”
Silver didn’t answer, however, what will happen if there is a situation where an NBA team has to be shut down during the playoffs because of the virus — like the league has had to do on several occasions so far. Once the NCAA tournament begins, if a team has an outbreak that prevents it from playing, their opponent would advance to the next round via forfeit.
Other topics Silver addressed include:
* Silver was asked about LeBron James, in particular, criticizing the league for holding the All-Star Game this season. And while Silver said he understands where James is coming from, he also commended him for how he’s handled things, including his work on “Inside The NBA” Thursday as he and Durant, the two captains, drafted their respective teams.
“It would be incredibly hypocritical of me to say to LeBron that you should speak out on issues that are important to you, but not ones when you’re critical of the league,” Silver said. “We’re all part of a community. I respect him and his point of view.
“Also, at the same time, I appreciate his professionalism. If you had a chance to see him, as captain and general manager of his team, proceed with the draft, he did it in good humor. He took it very seriously. My sense is he’s going to be here, as he always is, as a top-notch professional and engaged in the game.
“Again, I respect his point of view. But it seems like issues that can be worked out in the family, so to speak.”
* In recent weeks, Kyrie Irving’s tweet about changing the NBA’s logo to one featuring Kobe Bryant — as opposed to Jerry West, as it has been for decades — has been a hot topic for debate.
Silver, however, poured cold water on that discussion, saying that the league isn’t discussing the possibility of changing it right now, though he pointed out that Bryant’s name is now affixed to the league’s All-Star MVP trophy.
“Again, everything changes over time,” he said. “Nothing’s permanently fixed. But the logo is iconic. As you know, we’re distributed globally. Even changing the logo, purely even from a legal standpoint, isn’t an easy exercise. Not that that should be the impediment … [but] it doesn’t feel to me that this is the appropriate moment to be changing the logo.
“While it’s never been officially declared that the logo is Jerry West, it sure looks a lot like him. He still is thriving in our community. I know he’s so self-effacing and has said, please change it if that’s what people want to do. It just doesn’t feel like the right moment to be thinking about that.
“That doesn’t mean, again, that we won’t turn back and look at it at some point. To me, I appreciate the sentiments, but it feels like the logo is appropriate right now.”
* While Silver said he thinks the NBA has made “a fair amount of progress” when it comes to diversity, he admitted the league still has plenty of work to do to make hiring practices equitable for all.
“There shouldn’t be an impediment, as we all know,” Silver said, when asked about a “glass ceiling” for Black assistant coaches. “I would say as a practical matter, what we’re seeing happen, and I think this is in part human nature, people tend to turn to the people who they know best and they’re most familiar with.
“I think in certain cases you have a network of relationships that go back many years. To the extent that people aren’t part of those networks, they’re clearly at a disadvantage in the process.”
Silver added that the league is working with teams to ensure Black coaches are part of the process, but said he doesn’t want there to be a situation where teams are “checking boxes” by interviewing a minority candidate just to say that they did so.
“It requires real engagement,” he said.
* After the schedule was dramatically altered over the past two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Silver said he is “fairly optimistic” the NBA will get onto its old schedule — starting in mid-October and ending in June — next season.
“I’m fairly optimistic at this point that we will be able to start on time, and that we have roughly half of our teams have fans in their arenas right now,” Silver said. “If vaccines continue on the pace they are, and they continue to be as effective as they have been against the virus and its variants, we’re hopeful that we’ll have relatively full arenas next season as well.”
Silver also said that the NBA will not have international games next season, and that part of the reason next season could start on time is not needing to have any teams come back early to go play preseason international games.
* The referees have come under scrutiny in recent days after All-Stars Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell were both ejected from games in the final week before the break, and Mitchell and Utah Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert excoriated the officials — and were fined a combined $45,000 for their trouble — after losing to Philadelphia Wednesday.
Silver said there is no data that says technical fouls, or fouls across the board, are up this season, but that a combination of factors — including a slew of younger referees to playing in empty arenas to everyone having increased stress levels due to the ongoing pandemic — have played a factor in everyone having shorter fuses of late.
“I will say everyone is under enormous pressure this year. The officials aren’t exempt from that. They are also operating under our sort of work quarantine protocols,” he said. “One of the things we’ve learned over the last year is that the mental stress is incredibly tough on everyone involved. I think in some cases you have some younger officials, too, who maybe are still trying to calibrate their relationships with players.
“So I’m not particularly concerned necessarily with the calls on the floor. I’m always concerned about the members of our larger community and how they’re interacting with each other.”
* While Silver said there are no concrete plans to restart the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, he said it is likely it will return in some form.
“I think we’re going to end up as some combination of, built into your question, maybe an abbreviated Summer League, mini camps and other opportunities,” Silver said. “I think everything’s on the table now.
“As we’re seeing progress in our communities, I’m increasingly hopeful we’ll be able to do and put together some of those events. I know for our teams, from a competitive standpoint, it’s critically important they get an opportunity to see those players, particular ones who aren’t in the two-round draft. For the ones who do get drafted, get them an opportunity to put some court time in before the season starts.”
* He also said that business in China is moving ahead, with games being broadcast on CCTV — as they have been since the NBA Finals — and on Tencent, a streaming service, throughout this season.