While more than 300 NBA players have entered the league’s health and safety protocols this season because of COVID-19-related issues, several league general managers told ESPN that a debilitating issue remains the recent surge of team staffers — from coaches to support staff and beyond — entering protocols for the same reason.
Sources told ESPN that this season there have been more than 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases among 2,400 total Tier 1 staff — anyone working within 15 feet of players — across the NBA. The vast majority of cases among Tier 1 staff have also come within the past month, with more than 450 cases occurring from Dec. 7 to Jan. 10, sources said.
Such positions include equipment managers, player development staffers, video coordinators, analytics staffers, security staffers, scouts and those who work in player health positions, including athletic training staffers who double as their team’s respective COVID-19 protocols officers.
General managers across the league point out that while players can often be replaced by G-League backups, replacing core staffers who handle unique roles can prove to be much more challenging and impactful on day-to-day operations.
“A huge and real impact,” one Western Conference front-office executive said.
Said an Eastern Conference general manager: “The rising caseloads are stretching other team staff [to the limit].”
One NBA athletic training official, speaking on behalf of peers across the league, told ESPN, “It’s been a huge issue from our members’ standpoint. You’re basically taking an assembly of people who help the athletes and taking a few people off the line every few days for a week or more. It has interfered significantly with the regular protocols and people being given responsibilities/duties they don’t normally have or are even qualified to do in order to get the job done. It’s been the Wild Wild West.”
Since the pandemic began, team executives have also been more concerned about positive cases among staff, as many are older and/or have potential underlying issues that could lead to serious issues if they test positive for COVID-19.
The staffing issue has come to the forefront among teams, while the public focus has largely remained on the 328 total players who have entered protocols this season, with 252 entering in December and 69 having entered so far in January. And half of the 30 NBA head coaches have entered protocols this season, with 10 coming in December alone.
A total of 11 games have been postponed this season as some teams haven’t been able to field the league-required eight players.
The league has been encouraging all eligible players and staff to take booster shots. Recently, ESPN reported that nearly 70% of eligible NBA players — a number that comprises about 350 players — have received a booster shot.