NBA Coaches Union: Restart Protocols May ‘Severely Jeopardize’ Some Jobs

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb.10, 2020, in Denver. The Nuggets won 127-120. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The NBA Coaches Association is concerned about the league’s return-to-play protocols, which may limit the ability of its members to return to the sidelines when the NBA resumes in Orlando, Florida next month.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe reported coaches are specifically worried the current guidelines may “severely jeopardize” future employment opportunities in the league for those who are deemed “high-risk” for COVID-19.  

While NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has worked to ensure no coaches are singled out, the ages of Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni (69), New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry (65) and San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (71) place them in the category of those who are more susceptible to contracting the virus. 

A statement provided by the NBCA to ESPN spells out the union’s concerns: 

“The health and safety of all NBA coaches is our main concern. However, we are also concerned with a coach’s opportunity to work and to not have their ability to secure future jobs be severely jeopardized. The league assured us that a coach will not be excluded solely because of age.

“We feel the medical review process is designed to flag only those individuals who pose significant threats of substantial harm to themselves that cannot be reduced or eliminated by the NBA’s considerable steps to create a healthy and safe atmosphere in Orlando.

“Adam [Silver] and the NBA have created a situation in Orlando that is likely far safer than in our coaches’ home markets. Absent a significant threat, we believe a coach should be able to understand and assume their individual risks, waive liability, and coach in Orlando.”

The NBA recently sent teams a 113-page health and safety explainer, detailing the process team employees will undergo to receive clearance.

Per Wojnarowski and Lowe:

“All team staffers will fill out a questionnaire probing for individual risk factors, including: asthma; heart problems; ongoing cancer treatments; smoking habits; a body mass index above 40 as a measure of obesity; kidney or liver diseases; and other indications of a compromised immune system.

“A doctor selected by the team must review each questionnaire. The staffer must then provide a letter from a doctor — which could be the team doctor, or the staffer’s personal doctor — clearing that person to attend in Orlando, the protocols state. If the team designates any staffer as ‘higher-risk,’ that staffer must also obtain letters from relevant specialist physicians.”

The league notes it reserves the ability to flag some cases and refer the persons to “one or more physicians appointed by the NBA.” Those doctors have the right to determine if joining teams in Orlando would lead to a “direct threat” to their health. Those decisions are final and “unappealable.”

That language is at the heart of the NBCA’s worries. 

While Wojnarowski and Lowe note the “direct threat” will be a high bar to prove, its inclusion has the coaches union feeling uneasy about the ability of the league to target its members. 

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