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How the NBA plans to manage unvaccinated players this season

NBA facing COVID vaccination challenges
NBA facing COVID-19 vaccination challenges ahead of 2021-22 season 09:14

Unvaccinated NBA players will be required to undergo daily COVID-19 testing prior to entering team facilities this season, in addition to lab-based testing on game day, according to a memo stating guidelines that league officials are finalizing with its players' union. 

The professional basketball league sent a draft of the guidelines to teams Tuesday, and the document spells out the many safety rules unvaccinated players will have to abide by before games and at practice, ESPN first reported. All told, the not-yet-approved guidelines closely match COVID-19 restrictions that were placed on all team members last season, during the height of the pandemic and prior to the availability of a vaccine.

Unvaccinated players won't be allowed to dine with vaccinated teammates and will be given lockers as distant as possible from other players, according to the draft guidelines, which were also obtained by CBS News.

Still, teams will find ways to accommodate unvaccinated players, said Michele Roberts, executive director for the National Basketball Players Association. She added that 90% of players are already vaccinated, compared to 55% of the U.S. population.  "The real story for proponents of vaccination is how can we emulate the players in the NBA," Roberts said in a statement Tuesday. 

The National Basketball Players Association didn't immediately return a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch.

Players opting out

Aside from which team might win the 2021-22 championship, the biggest topic of conversation within NBA circles this week was which players chose not to get vaccinated and why. Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors, Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Trey Burke of the Dallas Mavericks are among the noteworthy players who have opted against getting vaccinated. Each has cited either religious reasons or skepticism about vaccines for not getting the shot. 

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving hasn't publicly said he is unvaccinated, but is purportedly against the vaccine and told reporters Tuesday to respect his privacy in regards to his vaccination status. Sen. Ted Cruz, R.-Texas, expressed his support for unvaccinated NBA players in a tweet on Wednesday.

"I stand with Kyrie Irving. I stand with Andrew Wiggins. I stand with Bradley Beal. I stand with Jonathan Isaac," Cruz wrote.

Different policies for players and fans

Although the NBA is not mandating vaccinations for players, some teams within the league are requiring fans and referees to show proof of vaccination to watch and officiate games this season, which starts October 19. 

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told CBS Mornings that vaccinations should not come down to a matter of personal choice for people on sports teams. 

"It's a personal choice if you don't belong to a team, where you have to be in close confinement with other players," Abdul-Jabbar told CBS. "They also have families, they have friends."

NBA announces new social justice award named after Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar 04:36

He added, "When we ignore a pandemic that is killing people just because some people don't feel like doing some research, I can't go along with that."

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Laker LeBron James — one of the most influential figures in the league — said he is vaccinated, but doesn't feel the need to encourage other players to do the same. 

New NBA guidelines

Under the new guidelines, unvaccinated players must stay six feet apart from others during physical therapy treatments. Teams will have to arrange their players' on-court seating to prevent unvaccinated players from sitting together. 

Also under the guidelines, unvaccinated players must remain at the team hotel during road games and may not go to bars, clubs or other entertainment venues. The unvaccinated must also quarantine for seven days if they come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

The guidelines have surfaced just as the NBA arenas for the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks are under local mandates requiring entertainment venues to only allow vaccinated people to enter. In those three arenas, unvaccinated players without proof of at least one vaccination shot would be barred from competition. Those players who miss games because they're unvaccinated will also lose their paychecks, the NBA said.

"Any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for games that he misses," league spokesman Mike Bass said Wednesday. 

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