BARISH | NBA Coaches Should Refuse To Play Unvaccinated Players – Georgetown University The Hoya - Techy Hunters

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Friday, October 15, 2021

BARISH | NBA Coaches Should Refuse To Play Unvaccinated Players – Georgetown University The Hoya

With the 75th NBA season on the horizon, teams have their hands full trying to figure out what to do about some players not being vaccinated against COVID-19. Currently, the NBA is requiring vaccines for most of its coaches and referees, but not for its players. The National Basketball Player’s Association (NBPA) refuses to agree to any COVID-19 protocols mandating that players get vaccines, tying the league office’s hands as they try to figure out how to navigate an unprecedented season.

Coincidentally, a member of the NBPA’s executive committee also happens to be the league’s most infamous unvaccinated player: Kyrie Irving. Irving, Vice President of the NBPA and star point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, has yet to state why he will not get the vaccine –– but he has made it clear that he is in no rush to get vaccinated anytime soon. Other prominent unvaccinated players include the Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal, Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. and Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac.

Policies in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco will prevent unvaccinated members of the Golden State Warriors, the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and the Nets from playing in home games, but visiting unvaccinated players in these cities are permitted to play. For Irving, this means missing all 41 home games and each of his paychecks for those games, totaling over $15 million. 

Nets head coach Steve Nash has recognized that the team will essentially have to play as two different teams throughout the season: one for home games and one for away games. 

“We’re going to have to for sure play without him this year.” Nash said in an interview Sunday. “So it just depends on when, where and how much.” 

It is impossible to measure the impact that the intermittent play of Irving and other unvaccinated players will have on their teams. For the Nets, home-court advantage in the playoffs could paradoxically be a disadvantage, as it would mean missing one of their best players for the majority of playoff games. It leaves the Nets struggling to decide if it is worth it to go on the road for one extra playoff game if it means their star point guard can play.

The NBA is remarkably close to being fully vaccinated, with 95% of players having received the vaccine. This vaccination rate is remarkably similar to that of the NFL, which most recently reported 93.7% of players being vaccinated. With the NFL season well underway and vaccination rates plateauing, there is little reason to believe that the start of the NBA season will lead to more players getting vaccinated. 

However, local restrictions have recently pushed some unvaccinated players to get the vaccine. Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins had entered training camp unvaccinated with no plans to get vaccinated in the near future. Like Irving, Wiggins would be barred from playing in home games by San Francisco’s vaccination requirements, forcing him to forgo millions of dollars. After his application for religious exemption was rejected, Wiggins confirmed his vaccination Sunday, Oct. 3. Wiggins’ decision was not prompted by a change of heart about the vaccine; rather, Wiggins felt that “the only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA.”

Teams ought to push all of their players to get vaccinated like the Golden State Warriors did Wiggins. If Wiggins were a member of nearly any other team, his options would not have been so limited, and perhaps he would not have been vaccinated. There is always the possibility that other NBA cities will impose similar vaccine requirements to those of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the league should not wait for cities to act for them. For unvaccinated players on 25 teams outside of those cities, the league’s policies are doing almost nothing to sway them.

Any vaccine mandate would require approval from the NBPA –– a non-starter unless the NBA decides to play hardball. Fortunately, NBA teams can force players into action on their own. Teams ought to avoid signing or drafting any unvaccinated players, barring any extenuating circumstances that lead to exemptions. Furthermore, for players currently on the roster, their coaches must seriously consider benching them until they get vaccinated; there is no reason to risk an outbreak among vaccinated personnel to appease the qualms of the unexempt and unvaccinated. The teams that accommodate their unvaccinated players will have to live with the increased risk of an outbreak, as well as the legitimate possibility that restrictions will increase to a point that they can no longer play. 

Austin Barish is a junior in the College. The Armchair Analyst appears in print and online every other week.


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