It has been 19 months since the world changed in March 2020. That’s when the Covid-19 pandemic affected the lives of the planet’s 7.9 billion people.
The world of sports was impaired. The Tokyo Games was moved 12 months later. Wimbledon got canceled. And while we used to watch 25,639 fans screaming inside an indoor arena, we’ve gotten used to observing empty stadiums with fake spectators plastered on LED screens.
This was 2020. It’s 2021. In Europe and in the U.S. today, mask-less fans sit side-by-side at Premier League games and the U.S. Open. The world of sports has slowly returned to normal.
The NBA is back to live action. This October 19, the 76th season of the NBA begins and all teams get to play 82 games. Two blockbuster encounters are scheduled on Opening Day: the LA Lakers vs. the Golden State Warriors; and the defending champs Milwaukee Bucks against the Brooklyn Nets.
LeBron, AD and Westbrook vs. Steph and Klay Thompson. Plus, it’s Giannis vs. Durant and Kyrie. Can it get any better than this double-header?
Yes. The even better news is the return of the boisterous, crazy and loud-voiced human beings who will spillover the arenas.
The NBA has 30 teams. Each city will have varying rules but, in general, we expect tens of thousands back in attendance. (I did a quick research and, since the pandemic struck, the largest sports gathering was the Indy 500 race last May when 135,000 fans packed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)
With the NBA, what are the Covid-19-related policies?
First, the non-negotiables that all teams must follow. This includes requiring all coaches and staff to be vaccinated. This rule, however, does not apply to the players. It’s estimated that only five percent are unvaccinated — including Kyrie Irving. The 6-foot-2, Melbourne, Austrialia-born guard is in a quandary; New York has strict rules and Kyrie might have to be tested daily before playing.
For the spectators, the league-wide policy includes requiring all fans seated within 15 feet of the court or player benches to either be vaccinated or to show proof of a recent negative test.
Of the NBA’s 30 teams, at least half of the squads will employ a ruling that will allow only the vaccinated or tested spectators to enter.
The strictest is the Toronto Raptors (Canada). They require proof of vaccination. No jab, no entry. Also, fans must wear masks (except when eating or drinking). Three other teams are as strict as the Raptors: the Knicks, Nets and Warriors.
Eleven teams will require either a jab or a test. These include the Pelicans, Lakers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Clippers, Thunder, Jazz, Bulls, Kings and Celtics.
The rest of the teams are not as strict. The Atlanta Hawks, for example, do not require any proof of vaccination or negative Covid-19 test to watch. They don’t even require the fans to wear masks.
I can’t wait for the start of the N.B.A…
Normal. Ballgame. At last.