September 20, 2020

Volume X, Number 264

September 18, 2020

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Managing Coronavirus in the NBA: A Success Story

The NBA returned to action in July with teams currently in the process of competing in eight regular season matches before the playoffs commence.

COVID-19

The return to action has been full of drama on the court and has been, without a doubt, a success. In the most recent round of COVID testing, all 343 players tested inside the league bubble at Disney World tested negative for the third week in a row. Players who have tested positive are required to quarantine until they test negative. Similarly, players who leave the bubble or breach the bubble’s rules will have to quarantine for at least four days and be required to test negative before exiting quarantine. However, Lou Williams, of the Los Angeles Clippers, was required to quarantine for 10 days after attending a funeral (which was sanctioned by the league) but appeared to break the league’s rules by visiting a restaurant before returning to the bubble. This demonstrates the NBA’s careful and precautionary approach to matters in Orlando.

The strict measures taken by the NBA at Disney World appear to be working very well but at some cost. The league has spent roughly $150M on implementing such measures, which include daily testing, treatment and quarantine associated with positive tests, meals, security, transportation, sanitation of facilities including practice gyms and staging games at three separate arenas.

However, the next challenge facing the NBA begins on 30 August when players can invite family and friends into the bubble. Family and friends will have to adhere to the bubble rules, which include:

  • quarantining for seven days prior to traveling to the bubble.

  • submitting a clearance form signed by a doctor that confirms they have no risk factors associated with COVID-19, and haven’t had any symptoms of the virus or associated/cared for anyone with the virus.

  • undergoing testing upon arriving at Disney World followed by a mandatory seven-day quarantine in temporary housing on the campus.

  • once cleared from quarantine, undergoing regular testing, daily temperature checks, wearing a face mask at all times and social distancing from everyone else on the campus aside from the player that they are the guest of.

Given the success so far, the NBA should be feeling confident that it can meet this challenge. Adam Silver and the NBA should be applauded for its efforts here, which have certainly paid dividends, whilst some other leagues struggle to contain the virus to the same extent.

Player tampering

With all players stationed at Disney World, there were concerns that players would collude with one another to pitch the opportunity of joining their teams to certain players. The NBA has tampering rules in place to stop this but such rules do permit “private discussions between or amongst players regarding future career plans”.

However, it was Draymond Green’s appearance as an analyst on TNT that breached these tampering rules. The NBA fined Green $50,000 for his comments about Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker: “It’s great to see Book playing well and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix… It’s not good for him. It’s not good for his career… I need my man to go somewhere that he can play great basketball all of the time and win because he’s that kind of player.” Booker signed a five-year, $158.2 million extension with Phoenix two years ago, so won’t be a free agent until the summer of 2024. This means that, if Booker wishes to leave Phoenix earlier than 2024, it will have to be via trade.

Article 35 of the NBA’s Constitution prohibits players from enticing, inducing or persuading other players (and coaches and trainers) under contract with other teams to move to another team. The maximum fine that the Commissioner can impose on such a player is $50,000, meaning Green received the maximum fine. The Commissioner is also empowered to suspend a player but did not choose to do so.

Owners and officers or employees of NBA teams are also prohibited from such tampering under Article 35A. However, in these instances, the sanctions are much harsher. Such individuals can be disqualified from any further association with an NBA team and be fined up to $10M whilst the Commissioner can require teams to forfeit draft picks and even transfer those draft picks to another team.

Draymond Green’s comments constitute tampering by public statement by a player concerning another team’s player. However, fans have considered that such comments prevent players from generally praising players without any intent on tampering. In any event, Green did not help his case by saying he was Maybe tampering.

Play-In Tournament

As previously discussed on Sports Shorts, this year’s shortened regular season includes a play-in tournament for teams competing for the final playoff spot in each conference. The Eastern Conference has already confirmed all eight playoff spots but the eighth seed in the Western Conference is all to play for.

The Memphis Grizzlies currently sit at eighth in the conference on 33 wins with the Portland Trailblazers also securing 33 victories at this point of the season. San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns are still in contention with the Spurs on 31 wins and Suns on 32 wins.

At the end of the regular season, the eighth placed team and ninth placed team will compete in a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot. The eighth placed team need win only once whilst the ninth placed team must win twice to advance. The play-in tournament begins on Saturday 15 August.

© Copyright 2020 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 224

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About this Author

Jack Blakey Intellectual Property & Technology Attorney Squire Patton Boggs London, UK
Associate

Jack Blakey is an associate in the Intellectual Property & Technology Practice Group, based in London. Jack’s experience covers both contentious and non-contentious commercial and intellectual property matters, as well as commercial contracts, licensing, confidentiality, data compliance and advertising.

Jack has spent time at our Brussels office and undertaken a secondment at an FTSE 250 company.

He is a frequent contributor to the firm’s Sports Shorts blog and Global IP & Technology Law Blog.

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