The NBA distributed to its teams a 113-page memo this past week describing the rules and regulations surrounding the bubble that will house players, coaches, and team executives at Disney World beginning in early July.
On Tuesday, players and executives will undergo their first widespread COVID-19 testing, meaning the NBA will have a workable number of how many people in the league have contracted the virus at least two weeks before teams head to Florida.
According to the NBA memo, there are six phases of returning prior to the resumption of games July 30. Phase 2 begins with the testing. Phase 3 begins July 1 with teams registering their traveling parties and also continuing testing. Phase 4 begins July 9 in Orlando with the beginning of organized team activities, along with more testing. Players will be allowed to participate in activities with teammates and players from other teams who are residing at the same hotel.
Phase 5 begins July 22 with intersquad scrimmages and more testing that will include media and ESPN officials. Players will be able to eat meals with teammates or other players who are staying at different hotels, but meals eaten with an opposing player must be eaten outside.
The sixth phase will begin July 30 with games and more testing.
Any player who tests positive during the June 23 tests must be quarantined for two weeks before returning to practice. Also, players have until June 24 to inform his team and the NBPA of his decision not to play. If that player is not considered a “Higher-Risk Individual” for contracting the virus and chooses not to play, he will not receive the remainder of his season salary.
Teams can include as many as 34 people in their travel party, and that can include 13-17 players, one trainer, one strength and conditioning coach, one equipment manager, and one security member. One personal security staff or massage therapist for an individual player can accompany the team. Teams can bring two additional staff members after each playoff round.
There are a litany of rules to conduct practice, including limiting basketball racks to one player and a five-step process to clean basketballs, which includes dishwashing liquid.
Once arriving in Orlando, every player and team official will receive a “MagicBand,” which will allow them to open their rooms, access to Disney attractions, and purchase food. They will all be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and confined to their rooms until results are available. Players will be tested again the next day and will be able to leave their rooms after the results of the second test.
Players will not be stopped from leaving campus but will be expected to stay, barring a family emergency or pre-agreed commitment. Any player who decides to leave will be tested and quarantined 10 days upon return. That could be reduced to four days if the player tests negative on the days he was absent.
Players must refrain from 1. spitting or cleaning their nose on the court; 2. wiping the ball with their jersey; 3. licking hands and then touching their shoes or the basketball; and 4. playing with their mouthguard.
All individuals on campus must wear facemasks when they’re not playing, eating, drinking, participating in a physical activity, or in their rooms.
Also, there will be social distancing practices when players and officials participate in social activities, such as video games, ping-pong (singles only), golf (no caddies), grooming (no crowded rooms for receiving haircuts or manicures), and no sharing of food.
Guests can join after the first round of the playoffs, but they must undergo a week of quarantine prior to arriving on campus and then immediate testing.
Roberts is sticking to plan
Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, still plans on stepping down from her post, but she has no idea when. When the players’ union made the announcement earlier this year that it was seeking a replacement for Roberts, who said she had no plans to finish her second term, it was prior to the pandemic.
The search for a new executive director has been postponed indefinitely with Roberts ready to help the players through one of the more difficult and unexpected obstacles in a generation.
“When I signed my second contract, it was with the understanding that I probably was not going to serve out the entire contract,” she said. “My plan when I got this job was to do four years and split because I really do enjoy daydreaming about checking [things] off my bucket list. But what we had not done immediately upon that understanding was begin the process of finding a successor. It took almost two years after firing Billy [Hunter] to hire me, which is almost insane that it would take that long.
“We kind of screwed up and really didn’t get [the search] started. We finally got started and it was so unclear to us how long the process would take. That process was ongoing. It stopped principally because it became a distraction to the players. There were concerns whether I would be available. We still don’t know how long new negotiations will take.”
It would have been nearly impossible for a new executive director to deal with these matters. Roberts realized that.
“I wasn’t on my way out the door, far from it, but the concern was we needed to focus to addressing these more significant issues,” she said. “If we did bring somebody else on, it was probably going to be the case that we were in the midst of this. Why don’t we just halt this for now? Just a difficult process to do well.
“But I’m still out of here. It wasn’t going to be tomorrow, but this certainly has placed things on hold for a minute. But that’s fine. It is certain the case at a time like this, I wouldn’t want to come into a job with these kinds of issues.”
Roberts said she does not advise players on whether or not to speak on social issues. She encourages and respects their voices, however different they are. The players have offered different opinions on whether to resume the season and how.
“It is not something we ever want to see happen is a player on my watch be disciplined for expressing outrage and taking action and response to social injustice,” Roberts said. “They are confident they are right and I agree with them in this circumstance. I don’t nudge players and tell then they have to speak. They don’t need me for that. They’ve got it.”
The pressing issue once the season resumes will be how to facilitate the 2020-21 season. The league set Dec. 1 as a target date. The NBPA has not signed off on that and appears concerned about such a brief offseason.
“The good news is it’s not something the league can unilaterally impose on the players. That’s how we start the discussion,” she said. “When guys express concern about I heard Dec. 1. I always say, ‘Not without our consent, so calm down.’ I don’t care if they said Oct. 30. I’m not concerned about anything because nothing happens unless the players consent to it.
“Those are tough questions that have to be resolved. How do we address the revenue challenges this virus has created and will create next season? I don’t know when they’re going to have fans back in the arena. I don’t think we’re going to have them in October.”
While it’s optimal for the league to begin in December because it would allow for perhaps a somewhat normal schedule and a late-June ending, the players are concerned about such a short offseason, especially those who will advance deep into the Orlando playoffs.
“There are a number of factors that will impact when the season will begin. I don’t know if we’re going to have a second spike [of coronavirus],” Roberts said. “What’s the virus going to look like? And if you’re going to talk about a compressed season, we were able to reduce the amount of back-to-back games, the notion of returning to that and the obvious injury risk that come along with that is not attractive.”
The league would like to finish the season prior to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics because it wants NBA players to participate in the Games, which are scheduled to begin July 23.
“There’s some tough decisions that have to be made. The Olympics? I don’t work for them,” Roberts said. “I got players, especially international players, that are invested. I don’t ignore that there are some concerns among my members about the availability of the Olympics. But it is not in my top five concerns to be able to protect the Olympic calendar.
“I want them to be able to play in the Olympics, but my responsibility is to the entire membership. It’s not going to be a game-changer for me in determining what’s the best interest for the majority of the players.”
The rookie card that almost wasn’t
It’s inconceivable to believe that the sports memorabilia market of the 1980s did not capitalize on the emergence of Michael Jordan. But it’s true. The memorabilia market was unprepared for the arrival of Air Jordan, so much so that no major trading card producer was making basketball cards during his first season.
The Topps Company, which had produced sports cards for generations, stopped producing basketball cards after the 1981-82 season, when they regionalized their sets, meaning certain players from teams outside the region weren’t available in packs.
What’s more, Topps made the heinous decision of placing three cards in one in their 1980-81 set, after the rookie years of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. And by coincidence — or maybe not — the Bird and Johnson rookie cards are paired — with Julius Erving as the third card. So if you want to purchase a Bird rookie card, Magic has to come along for the ride.
Fast-forward to 1984. With Topps out of the basketball business, the Star Company was able to get the NBA license to produce basketball cards, and for three seasons Star produced a series of team sets, All-Star, and award cards that were only distributed to card and memorabilia dealers.
As a young collector, I remember how the owner of the store I frequented, Derek, had no idea of the worth of these cards. Well, come to find out that Star produced the only Jordan rookie card, No. 101, included in the Bulls team set.
The card shows Jordan as he grabs a rebound against the Nets. It’s unclear how many of these cards were produced, but it was considerably fewer than what Topps or even Fleer, which jumped into basketball cards a year later, would have produced.
What’s more, a pristine No. 101 sold a few years ago for $52,500. One eBay seller is posting the 1984-85 Bulls team set for $225,000 (free shipping, of course). And while the 1986-87 Fleer Jordan is considered his actual rookie card because it was available in stores and produced more commercially, the Star No. 101 is the real Jordan rookie card.
And Star was able to capitalize on the brilliant 1984 draft class. In addition to Jordan, that 1984-85 set also has rookie cards for Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton, and Charles Barkley. The Celtics’ team set includes 11 members of the 1984-85 team, including Bird, Danny Ainge, and Cedric Maxwell.
“I think Star holds a special place in history of basketball trading cards,” collectibles guru Steve Taft said.
According to Taft, the Jordan Star card was overlooked until the early 1990s, when the entrance of David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Anfernee Hardaway sparked a basketball memorabilia resurgence. Add to that several companies entered the basketball card production fray and suddenly the Jordan No. 101 card began soaring, reaching as much as $5,000 early in the decade.
As Jordan began racking up championships, his legend grew and the sport became more popular with players such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett entering the league. As a result, No. 101 became, well, the Michael Jordan of basketball cards.
“Probably 20 years now, we’ve seen the card going up on a fairly regular basis,” Taft said. “This is the most extended rally for basketball cards that I’ve seen. In the last year, [the Jordan card] has just exploded.”
“The Last Dance” documentary not only added to Jordan’s legend but also to his card’s value. Of the few No. 101s available on eBay, none go for less than $5,000 and one is at $15,000 with a 7.5 grade, which is solid but not great condition.
Beckett, a company that grades cards, revealed that it has only graded three Jordan No. 101 cards with a 9.5 rating. Three. There are no 10 ratings.
“A lot of key Jordan cards have doubled in the last 10 to 12 months,” Taft said. “But this card is special. It’s the real Michael Jordan rookie card. And this small company was the only one who made a card.”
The Pistons made another front office move in hiring longtime Thunder executive Troy Weaver, who was instrumental in the drafting of Russell Westbrook in 2008 and several other shrewd moves under general manager Sam Presti. Weaver had been waiting years for his opportunity and he’ll get a chance to reshape the Pistons, who traded center Andre Drummond and waived point guard Reggie Jackson in the weeks prior to the season stoppage. Blake Griffin, who has been injured often, remains on the roster for two more seasons at $75 million. Detroit could be active in the free agent market with the salaries of Jackson and Drummond off the books. One player to watch in Detroit is rookie Sekou Doumbouya, who showed flashes of being a potential cornerstone, including a 24-point performance against the Celtics . . . The new conditions of the NBA return allow teams to sign free agents to join their club in case of a roster opening. There are some free agents remaining who could help playoff clubs, including Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Jordan Bell. The Suns will be without swingman Kelly Oubre for their stint in Orlando as he continues to recover from knee surgery. Oubre has been a key component for the Suns, who are unlikely to overtake the four teams ahead of them for the final playoff spot . . . The Knicks have plenty of time to seek a new coach, and they plan to interview as many as 10 candidates to take one of the more difficult jobs in the NBA. The question is whether the Knicks want a veteran coach who can help kickstart a rebuild or a neophyte who may bring much-needed energy into the organization. The club thought it had that guy in former Memphis coach David Fizdale, but he was fired after a horrid start. New York will have enough salary-cap space for two maximum free agents in 2021, but the behavior of owner James Dolan may deter free agents from showing interest.