NBA plan to reopen practice facilities pushed back to May 8 at the earliest
Players reportedly will be required to wear face masks except when working out
The NBA has pushed back the possible reopening date of some team practice facilities for at least a week until May 8 at the earliest, saying Monday the extra time was needed in part to make sure player training options would be safe and controlled in an effort to try to mitigate the threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
And when those facilities reopen, the rules will be strict.
The May 8 date is far from firm, the NBA said, warning teams it "may push this timing back if developments warrant." The league planned on giving teams the option of reopening facilities as early as Friday, though ultimately decided more time was needed across the league for many reasons.
But whenever those practice courts open — local government clearance would be needed first in all cases — there will not be an immediate return to normal. A person with knowledge of the league's plans said players would have to wear face masks inside facilities except when working out, that any staff members present would have to wear face masks and gloves, and that a minimum distance of 12 feet would be required as a buffer between players and staff members working with them.
The exception in that 12-foot case would be when medical or athletic training personnel are in contact with players. The person spoke to the The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the details were not publicly released.
There are numerous other details of the league's facility-reopening protocols, the person said, including:
- Players who return to their home-team markets from out of town will have to quarantine before being allowed back in the facility.
- All equipment used by players in their voluntary workouts, including basketballs, will have to be disinfected before being used again. Players will not be allowed to share towels, and teams will not be permitted to make steam rooms, saunas, cold tubs, oxygen chambers or cryotherapy chambers at the facilities available.
- Teams will have to designate a staff member as a "Facility Hygiene Officer" to oversee all new policies. Players will have to enter the facility alone, without family members, friends or personal security.
- All cellphones, keys and other often-touched items must be cleaned and disinfected upon entry to the facility.
"Our foremost priority remains everyone's health and well-being and we will continue to follow the NBA's guidelines, while also continuing to listen to public health experts and observe local governmental directives," Orlando Magic spokesman Joel Glass said.
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When teams can reopen, other rules will include a limit of four players at a facility at any one time, no practices or scrimmages will be allowed, and no head coaches or assistant coaches can be part of the voluntary workouts.
NBA players are also still prohibited from working out at public health clubs, fitness centres, or gyms.
'Too much unknown to set timeline' for season restart
The NBA suspended the season March 11 after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was the first player to test positive for COVID-19. It ordered teams to shutter their facilities eight days later, saying at the time it was doing so "in light of the rapidly-developing coronavirus situation, and consistent with evolving advice from health experts regarding how to promote individual and public health while minimizing the spread of the virus."
Facilities have not been opened since, and this step — when it happens — does not mean a return to NBA play is imminent. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said repeatedly that he does not believe the league will be in position to make any decision on whether the season can resume until sometime in May, at the earliest.
"There's too much unknown to set a timeline, even too much unknown to say, 'Here are the precise variables,"' Silver said on April 17.
In the NHL, suspended at about the same point of the season as the NBA, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said league officials "haven't made any decisions yet." Daly said only the NHL owes players and teams guidance before April 30 and will consider its next steps in that context.
Johns Hopkins University, which tracks the numbers of those affected or killed by the virus based off official government figures, said the COVID-19 worldwide death toll surpassed 200,000 on Saturday. And the World Health Organization said "there is currently no evidence" that people who have recovered from the virus cannot fall sick again.