The Boston Celtics announced that forward Al Horford has cleared health and safety protocols and will be eligible for Game 2 Thursday night of the Eastern Conference Finals. Horford entered health and safety protocols on Tuesday, just hours before tipoff of Game 1. A player being available for his team is a good thing. But the NBA’s ambiguous policy around COVID-19 and Horford’s unwillingness to address his vaccination status directly hint at something more serious.
How did Horford wind up in health and safety protocols?
Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said the team found out Horford was in health and safety protocols a couple of hours before the game. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst confirmed the same, saying Horford was at a shootaround that morning.
According to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol guidelines, fully vaccinated players are not subject to testing unless they are symptomatic, are in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, or a team medical staff member or league physician requires it.
The Celtics are on the road for the Eastern Conference Finals. How likely is it that Horford was the only player in close contact with someone who tested positive and that contact happened without Horford coming into direct contact with any of his other teammates or Celtics staff?
Horford was at shootaround and there was no indication he was symptomatic. If he didn’t self-report, how did he wind up in protocols?
This is where Horford’s vaccination status comes into play.
The NBA’s guidelines state unvaccinated players must undergo daily testing prior to entering a team facility, participating in team-organized activities or interacting with other players and Tier 1 personnel.
If Horford didn’t self-report, we can assume he took a mandatory test that came back positive.
Back in March when the playoff seeding was still shaking out, there was a possibility that the Celtics would play the Toronto Raptors.
Given the vaccine mandate for all athletes entering Toronto, the Celtics unwillingness to confirm if all players were vaccinated, Horford’s last-minute scratch from a game in Toronto late in the season, and his ambiguous answer when asked about his vaccination status; you can see how this is a problem.
Yes, this is all circumstantial. But legal arguments are made with circumstantial evidence, and there is a lot of it in this instance.
COVID cases are rising again across the globe, according to the World Health Organization. The dropping of mandatory mask mandates and vaccination requirements for many indoor gatherings no doubt has had an impact. The NBA is a microcosm of the larger society. If cases are rising in the world, then they are in the NBA as well.
What makes it particularly interesting is that we have less teams playing, as the playoffs are at the conference finals round. Team, players, coaches are one step closer to that ultimate prize. It’s safe to say that nobody would want COVID to be the reason they were unavailable to help their team win.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who is fully vaccinated, entered health and safety protocols on Monday, May 9 before Game 4 of the conference semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. He cleared health and safety protocols on Sunday May 15. That’s six days, for those keeping score.
Horford was able to clear health and safety protocols in just about 48 hours due to a new addendum that went into effect. If a player returns two negative tests on game day, they would be eligible to exit protocols and play.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) May 19, 2022
Horford benefited from new COVID-19 protocol (added Apr. 30) allowing players who test negative twice on a game day to play. Horford likely tested negative after shootaround, then upgraded to questionable and then again this afternoon, making him eligible to play. #Celtics #Heat
— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) May 19, 2022
Again, none of this irrefutably proves that Horford is unvaccinated. But it doesn’t irrefutably prove he is either.
The evasive responses from Horford on his vaccination status, and the NBA’s ambiguous language and inconsistencies around its health and safety protocol guidelines, suggest that science is not leading any of the decision-making processes. Short of being outright symptomatic and admittedly unvaccinated, health and safety protocols will not stop a player from playing.