Despite the Herculean efforts of the NBA and the NBPA, the
league is encountering a variety of problems in trying to get
everyone in the league vaccinated against COVID-19. The teams
having the most difficulty getting vaccinations include the
Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards
and Philadelphia 76ers, BasketballNews.com has learned.
Numerous league sources described the situation as an ongoing,
daily dilemma in which they are fighting against misinformation,
historical truths about government abuse of vaccination programs in
Black communities and logistical complications based upon different
vaccination qualification rules in different states.
Despite the problems, the New Orleans Pelicans, Golden State
Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers have managed to
have team vaccination events — a single event in which members of
the organization who wish to receive vaccinations are given doses.
Close to half of the league is roughly three weeks away from being
freed from strict lockdown rules that one Western Conference
executive described as being “worse than the bubble.”
With the United States entering what the government is calling
the “fourth wave” of COVID-19 infections, the slow return to
normalcy is proving difficult in both the NBA and society at large.
A league source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said teams
have been instructed by the league office that they cannot jump the
line to get members of their organizations vaccinated, and nobody
will be forced to be vaccinated against their will. But at the same
time, extraordinary efforts are being made to educate players and
team personnel about the merits of vaccination.
The league has incentivized it, too, allowing teams that have
85% of both players and staff fully-vaccinated to be freed from the
restrictions -- some of which have been deemed onerous -- that have
kept them masked in locker rooms, confined to their hotel rooms
without guests on the road and banned from eating at
The league defines “fully vaccinated” as being two weeks past
the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or the
single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. A handful of players
have flown on their own or with the assistance of their agents to
states with less restrictive qualification rules. However, despite
the incentives, some players and staff are refusing to be
vaccinated, citing religious reasons, health concerns (such as
allergies) or other personal reasons.
On March 24, the Warriors held a vaccination event at Kaiser
Permanente S.F. in Mission Bay, California. There, members of the
organization who wished to be were vaccinated received Johnson &
Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. The Pelicans were able to hold a
vaccination event in their home state of Louisiana because the
state has a body-mass index rule that is less-restrictive than in
other states. Many members of the organization were able to
qualify. Not every team has had the same experience.
One league source described the current degree of difficulty of
receiving vaccines as a five on a 1-to-10 scale, whereas it was a
three one week ago and a one (a virtually impossibility) one month
On Monday, ESPN’s The Undefeated reported that Andrew Wiggins
and Kent Bazemore of Golden State are two players who
have said they won't take the vaccine anytime soon.
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts spoke with the Wall Street
Journal and confirmed that at least
a sect of players have concerns about being vaccinated. Roberts
suggests, however, that the vaccines -- which she says are
“auditioning” -- are “earning credibility” with her
NBPA president Chris Paul has been mum on the issue for the last
three weeks after
being quoted as saying, “I think all of these decisions are
One source said that one of the most difficult tasks has been
dispelling myths being perpetuated by anti-vaccine advocates whose
information is being re-reported by some mainstream media companies
and spreading on social media and online forums.
The program, which took place in Tuskegee, Alabama from 1932 to
1972, was used to author a report entitled “Study of Untreated
Syphilis in the Negro Male.” The men who participated in the study
were told that they were receiving free health care from the
federal government, but they were left untreated for decades. Even
after penicillin became widely available, the men never received
it. After initially being told that the study would last six
months, it continued for 40 years. The study reportedly caused the
deaths of 128 participants, either directly from syphilis or from
The league and union have worked together to start conversations
with players and address their concerns. Dr. Leroy Sims, the NBA’s
medical director, and Dr. Deverick Anderson, a Duke University
medical professor hand-picked by the NBPA, have given informational
vaccination presentations to all 30 NBA teams via Zoom.
All of these developments come as more NBA arenas are being
opened up to fans. The Boston Celtics played in front of a “full
house” of 2,298 masked fans on Monday night after Massachusetts
cleared the state's professional sports teams to admit up to 12%
After a series of infections forced numerous postponed games
early this season, especially for the Washington Wizards and
Memphis Grizzlies, the league and union agreed to a more
restrictive set of rules that, among other things, barred players
from having guests in their hotel rooms while on the road.
One adjustment was subsequently made to allow for a pair of
60-minute “exercise” trips outdoors for teams while on the road,
but the net effect has been a league-wide case of cabin fever.
Worldwide, it is being called “coronavirus fatigue” and includes
social isolation leading to social disengagement.
Those speaking with BasketballNews.com said the most optimistic
forecasts would have all 30 teams operating under the less
restrictive rules prior to the end of the regular season in
mid-May, but the equation changes every day. The situation is being
complicated by a new surge of cases in several states. Vaccine
availability also varies by geographical region.
“Right now, I am scared,” Deborah Birx, the former White House
coordinator for pandemic response, said on Monday as U.S. president
Joe Biden addressed the nation, saying (among other things), “We
are in a life-and-death battle with a virus that is spreading
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Center for Disease
Control, fought back tears as she pleaded with Americans to “hold
on a little longer” during Monday’s coronavirus briefing at the
A league memo on this subject was obtained by BasketballNews.com
and it outlines the benefits that “fully-vaccinated teams” can
enjoy. They include not having to wear masks at practice
facilities, more flexibility to leave hotels on the road, being
served meals on team flights, being allowed to eat outdoors or
indoors at restaurants, loosened rules on the timing of daily PCR
tests, the ability to hold team meetings at locations other than
the court or hotel ballrooms, no COVID testing on off days and no
quarantine following exposure to COVID-19. Read the full memo
The NBA playoffs are beginning in less than two months, and the
league was hoping the virus would either be under control by now or
that all of its players would all be vaccinated.
Unfortunately, neither has happened.
They’ve made it this far, but obviously, the NBA isn’t totally
out of the woods yet.