2021 NBA bubble: what covid-19 restrictions are there this year?

Even though the bubble was a great success and the NBA was able to finish the 2020 season, the league is going to play in the home markets for 2021.

2021 NBA bubble: what covid-19 restrictions are there this year?

Last season the NBA had to call an extended timeout with the coronavirus interrupting the game. When the season restarted the league sequestered 22 teams with playoff hopes in a “bubble” at Disney World near Orlando, Florida. The “bubble” was a success with no players testing positive nor game postponements or cancellations. The league salvaged $1.5 billion in revenue by spending $180 million on the project.

Despite the success, the upcoming regular season set to begin 22 December the NBA and the Players Association decided to play game in the home arenas. Even though a new surge of cases was underway all concerned have no intention to return to the safety of the "bubble" due to the mental and financial toll of isolation. The league, teams and the players have agreed to a set of rules to try to prevent outbreaks of covid-19 in full awareness that there is no guarantee in this pandemic.

The League hasn’t set up any criteria for what might prompt the league to suspend the season. Independent cases or a small number of “expected” covid-19 cases will not result in the season being suspended or cancelled.

How will the league prevent the spread of covid-19?

The NBA sent a guidebook to the teams ahead of training camps opened at the beginning of December. The health and safety protocols laid out by the league were similar to those imposed back in the summer. However this time there won’t be a protective "bubble" and teams will be travelling. This feature has already caused the Toronto Raptors to move their home arena to Tampa Bay, Florida due to Canadian pandemic-related travel restrictions.

With a vaccine now available, the league and the Players Association will negotiate whether players, coaches and staff will be required to receive it. If a person should choose not to be vaccinated the adjustments to the safety provisions might be implemented.

Positive covid-19 tests

Players will be tested daily and a positive test result will set into motion a series of steps players will have to go through before they can play again. The first of the two scenarios, if a player doesn’t show symptoms, he will have to sit out for 10 days from the positive result. After that the player must pass an physical examination. Then he will work out alone for two days at a team facility while being monitored. Finally the player will be allowed to rejoin group workouts.

In the second scenario, if the player shows symptoms, he will have to sit out for 10 days from the time the symptoms fade. After that the player will follow the screening and two-day solo workouts under supervision before being allowed to join the team workouts.

Home and away restrictions

While in their team’s home market, team personnel will be prohibited from going to bars, lunges or clubs, as well as attending live entertainment or sports events. Team personnel will also be forbidden from using gyms, spas or pools, in addition to participating in social gatherings with more than 15 people.

On the road, players, coaches and staff will be permitted to dine outside their hotels if the restaurants provide outdoor dining, have fully privatized indoor rooms, or have met requirements to be formally approved by the league and the players’ union. A list of at least three approved restaurants in each market will be provided by the NBA and the Player Association.

Each team will designate “Tier 1” members to comprise traveling parties of no more than 45 people. Other employees and staff with less direct contact, requiring masks and social-distancing, will be classified as “Tier 2.” Individuals in both tiers will be subject to daily coronavirus testing. The league will also provide twice-weekly covid-19 testing for household members of players and staff.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

An anonymous tip line will be made available to report possible violations of safety protocols just as in the Orlando "bubble." Also the NBA may conduct unannounced inspections of team facilities to ensure that franchises are complying with the safety protocols.

Players violating the safety guidelines may face a loss of pay proportionate to any lost availability due to quarantines or reinstatement steps. Other penalties may include formal warnings, fines, suspensions or educational sessions. Teams also face potential penalties for failing to comply with or failing to report violations of the mandated safety protocols.