Bulls

NBA Needs to Reevaluate Amidst Bulls’ COVID Outbreak

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If you followed the Chicago Bulls during the 2010s, then the phrase “We have more than enough to win” is surely a string of words that invoke some memories.

Regardless of whatever injuries the Bulls were dealing with, then head coach Tom Thibodeau, who was in his first head-coaching position, maintained the stance that his team was capable of being victorious. A simple statement, it was telling of his coaching style and the expectations he had for his players. It embodies the “next man up” mentality.

The phrase has become an innate thought that comes to mind whenever the Bulls — even well after Thibodeau’s departure — are shorthanded. And so, it’s a thought that has been lingering even more lately, as the Bulls deal with players (seemingly) continually entering COVID health and safety protocols.

It’s not that Chicago should prescribe to such a statement, because they shouldn’t. Certainly not now. But it is a reminder of what society has come to expect from sports.

The phrase that better reflects my feelings toward the NBA and its handling of COVID this season — particularly in reference to the Bulls? Disappointed but not surprised.

BULLS’ COVID OUTBREAK AND DELAYED LEAGUE ACTION

Coby White. Javonte Green. DeMar DeRozan. Matt Thomas. Derrick Jones Jr. Ayo Dosunmu. Stanley Johnson. Zach LaVine. Troy Brown Jr. Alize Johnson.

It took 10 Bulls entering protocols over 13 days for the league to take action, canceling Chicago’s games versus the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors this Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. If it weren’t for the postponement, the Bulls would have played Tuesday’s game with the bare-minimum availability of eight players.

And that’s assuming no one else would have entered protocols or been cleared to return.

Before the 10 Bulls currently in protocol, Nikola Vučević was out with COVID for seven games last month. Bulls announcers Stacey King and Bill Wennington are out as well.

The postponements of Bulls games are the first to occur in the NBA this season. Although a good and correct decision, it shouldn’t have taken this long.

I’m not an expert on anything even remotely related to medicine, science or infectious diseases, but it shouldn’t take such specialized knowledge to recognize health and safety should be prioritized over a game that, in the grand scheme of things, is pointless.

The NBA is fun and entertaining. But it’s not essential — no matter how much we need NBA basketball in our lives.

Yes, the business aspect of the game is important to recognize, because it’s essential to realize there’s money to be lost and jobs that are affected. But it’s not difficult to also realize that losing some money in the short run isn’t as bad as potentially hindering the product you’re trying to sell in the long run.

The more players who are in protocols, the more anyone who’s available has to be relied on. But it’s possible the available players have COVID, too, and just haven’t tested positive yet. It’s how the Bulls amassed two lineups worth of players in protocols.

So allowing whatever remaining players there are to compete just increases the chance for players on the opposing team to land in the same protocol.

Eventually, the time of inaction encourages a widespread COVID outbreak in the league. And then what? The NBA product everywhere takes a hit, not just in Chicago.

THE NEED FOR A NEW APPROACH TO THIS NBA SEASON

The fact the NBA has been prioritizing the amount of players who are available to play over the amount of players who are unavailable due to COVID is ridiculous. Sure, eight players is more than enough to play a basketball game. And, at a certain point, teams who are hit hard enough with missing players receive a hardship exception that allows additional players to be signed.

But that doesn’t mean a game should be played. Especially not when the reason such a limited amount of players are available is due to a pandemic.

One of the most ironic things about the Bulls’ ongoing situation with COVID is that Stanley Johnson, who has been playing for the South Bay Lakers, was signed to a 10-day contract using a hardship exception to help fill the void of those in protocols only for him to test positive himself.

He didn’t even play a game.

The NBA is looking at pandemic play as “How many people are available, and is that enough?” instead of prioritizing the perspective of “How many people have COVID, and how much does that promote the spread of the virus and put others at risk?”

It’s not like the league had no idea such outbreaks could occur when deciding to move forward with this season. There are vaccines for COVID, but the pandemic is not over. And it surely won’t be ending anytime soon if the NBA continues to handle it in this manner.

The Bulls, however, are just one team who happened to make the biggest headlines in regards to coronavirus in the league. The amount of players and teams outside of Chicago who are being affected is only growing. Without prompt action, things are only bound to get worse. And it’ll just make it take longer for things to get better.

At the time of writing this, the Brooklyn Nets have seven players including James Harden in protocol. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of three Milwaukee Bucks on the shelf for the same reason, and the New York Knicks have three players out due to COVID, too. Not to mention the Los Angeles Lakers also canceled their Tuesday practice because of Talen Horton-Tucker’s positive test, and Dwight Howard and Malik Monk have since joined him in H&S protocol.

No other postponements have been made since the Bulls’ two games for this week were canceled. Given the amount of time it took the NBA to take action in regards to the Bulls, it’s not a surprise no additional action has been taken — just as it came as no surprise to see the list of Bulls in health and safety protocol grow. But the inaction continues to be a disappointment.

Right now, it doesn’t matter if you have more than enough to win. It matters that you have the sense to value people’s wellbeing over the potential for victory and the money that comes with it.

About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a Filipina American writer and Illinois journalism graduate based in the Chicago suburbs. She has a decade's worth of sports writing experience, having been published in several online publications. She writes about the Bulls, the Sky, and general NBA content for The Lead.

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