It seems like we have some insight into the Phoenix Suns’ bizarre collapse against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals after leading the series 3-2. According to The Athletic, the Suns were dealing with a COVID outbreak late in that series and at least one player and a member of the coaching staff tested positive. Other members of the Suns reportedly admitted to not feeling well prior to game seven. A game they were embarrassed in at home by a score of 123-90.
“I think it’s very clear that nobody wanted to report stuff,” said one source with knowledge of the Suns’ positive tests. That source was not authorized to speak publicly. “And this is where it gets dicey.”
This calls the NBA’s protocols for testing into question. The league requires all team personnel, regardless of vaccine status, to undergo COVID-19 testing if they are experiencing symptoms, and they may not play, coach or be at team facilities if they test positive.
That means you have to be honest if you’re experiencing symptoms and self report. Even assuming everyone was honest in their self-reporting, is it possible to see a scenario where someone might not? Say an important playoff game that would have financial implications?
Below is an overview of the current Covid-19 surveillance testing requirements for NBA players. pic.twitter.com/gm7L994p5d
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) January 14, 2022
To be clear, there is no way to definitively know how much of an impact this had on the Suns’ playoff collapse, but it likely played some role.
The Mavericks heard rumblings about a Suns outbreak as early as game five of the series and they were concerned.
“(COVID-19) was on everybody’s mind,” one source close to the situation said.
The NBA is no different than the larger society. COVID-19 cases and transmission rates have increased across the country since mask and vaccine mandates have been lifted. There have been a few notable COVID-19 cases these playoffs alone.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George missed the play-In game against the New Orleans Pelicans after testing positive. Chicago Bulls player Zach LaVine missed Game five of his team’s first-round series after he tested positive.
Two participants in these NBA Finals, Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr and Boston Celtics’ forward Al Horford, both missed playoff games after positive tests.
The NBA season will end within the next 10 days and COVID-19 impacting games won’t be a reality again until next season. But the league needs to have its protocols clear heading into next season.
“We’re talking about a disease that doesn’t just impact life and death, but this is a disease that potentially spreads rapidly throughout a population,” Dr. Robby Sikka, founder of the COVID-19 Sports and Society Workgroup, said. “We probably need to start thinking about, are people going to get a booster ahead of next season? Are we going to have more treatments available, or are we going to more aggressively use Paxlovid? Those are the questions that we should ask. The good news is and I’ll just say this, because I know from speaking to people associated with both of the teams in the finals, you have teams that are taking this very seriously. They are trying to prevent spread within their organizations because they want to be able to play in the finals.”
COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and while it seems as though things are “back to normal, ” leagues and people can’t behave as though the virus is no longer an issue.