By Milo Boublik
New York City, New York
Now that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) have finally come to an agreement on the dates of free agency and the beginning of the season, the NBA is announcing its plans for fan attendance for the 2020-2021 season.
The NBA season is set to begin on December 22, a date in near future when COVID-19 will likely be as rampant, if not worse, than it is now across the country. COVID-19 is beginning to spike again across the country; however, the NBA remains dedicated to bringing fans into some arenas at the beginning of the season.
The NBA released its protocols for fan attendance next year in eligible arenas. These protocols require that fans sitting 30 feet from the court test negative for COVID-19 two days before the game or they take a rapid test the day of, food and drinks will not be available for fans sitting 30 feet from the court, NBA teams are allowed to have plexiglass in between benches and seats, NBA teams can have fans at 50% capacity if every fan is tested or the “local county’s positivity rate is three percent or below and seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents is 10 or fewer” and all fans older than two are required to practice social distancing, wear a mask and participate in a symptom survey when entering arenas.
For some arenas, however, there are restrictions placed on them by the city or state where they are located, and these government restrictions will prohibit any fans from attending games, regardless of NBA protocols. For example, in New York, where the arenas of both the Knicks and the Nets are located, Governor Andrew Cuomo has a policy in place that would prevent any fans from attending games. This policy states, “No live audience, fans, or spectators are allowed to attend or permitted to enter any professional sports venue, even if an outdoor venue.”
Other organizations, not forced by government policy, have decided to not allow fans to attend the games because of advice from health officials. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, for example, announced that all Lakers and Clippers games at their shared home arena, Staples Center, will be played without fans until otherwise stated. The Lakers released a statement that said, “The health and safety of our fans, players, staff and community are our main priority and we will continue to work with state and local officials to come up with a plan to safely welcome fans back to Staples Center in adherence with local, state and NBA guidelines.”
Although some of the NBA protocols, such as having 50% fan capacity, may seem unsafe, the NBA has proven that it is capable of responsibly handling the safety of the league during the pandemic. Over the three-month period when NBA teams played in the bubble in Orlando, there were zero reported COVID-19 cases among hundreds of players, coaches and staff. The new fan protocols might seem inconsistent with the NBA’s overall cautious and responsible approach to COVID-19, but the NBA has been successful at handling COVID-19 in the past, and there is no reason to believe that this trend will not continue.